NFC South Hot Topic: Sept. 21

Need the inside scoop on the rest of the NFC South? Here's the Hot Topic for Sept. 21, exclusively at Bucsblitz.com. And don't forget — with a premium subscription, you get access to not only Bucsblitz.com's premium content, but also premium content for the rest of the Bucs' NFC South rivals.

ATLANTA FALCONS

Falcons wide receiver Roddy White has been one of the few bright spots on an offense that has struggled to put points on the board and is on the verge of a possible quarterback change.

The third-year product did not live up to his first-round selection during his first two seasons, as dropped passes and had a marginal amount of production (59 catches total) in a run-oriented offense, had some fans calling for his release.

Though he might not have an army of converts, White does lead the Falcons with eight catches and has been its most productive receiver or running back (110 yards).

"My confidence level is real high because I'm getting the ball during the week during practice and they're finding ways to get it to me in games," White said. "I'm catching like 20 to 30 balls (in team drills) in practice and that's really good because the last few years, that wasn't the case."

White played well enough during the offseason and in training camp for coach Bobby Petrino to make him the starting wideout opposite Joe Horn. Former starter Michael Jenkins was moved into the slot as the No. 3 receiver.

The change, thus far, has been White's increased maturity, which has gone hand-in-hand with Petrino's pushing.

"The whole deal with him was to get his confidence back," Petrino said. White needed to, "experience a whole lot of catches in practice and know that we're going to go to him in the game. Right now, I feel like he's playing with a lot of confidence. We have confidence in him."

PLAYER NOTES

The local prosecutor in Surry County, Va., said he plans to press charges against suspended quarterback Michael Vick, but he might not put forth evidence at next Tuesday's scheduled grand jury hearing. Commonwealth Attorney Gerald Poindexter said he would like to use some of the evidence collected by federal investigators in their prosecution of Vick and three others, but that evidence might not be shared until after Vick is sentenced Dec. 10.

FS Chris Crocker went through his second day of practice after returning from a bone bruise in his knee and went through all drills with the first-team defense. He also worked as the nickel back. Crocker, who has not played his season, appears set to make his debut as the starter vs. Carolina Sunday.

Starting LT Wayne Gandy returned to practice and took part in some drills as he recovers from a hamstring injury that kept him out of the final three quarters in last Sunday's loss at Jacksonville. Gandy's backup, rookie Renardo Foster, rotated with the first offense.

TE Dwayne Blakley is not expected to play Sunday because of a pectoral injury that has kept him from practicing. This is a bigger loss than is may seem because Blakley has been used a lot in two tight end or H-back sets and was off to a very solid start. If Blakley can't play, rookie Martrez Milner would be the No. 2 tight end.

Rookie WR Laurent Robinson, who did not play last Sunday because of a hamstring injury, is expected to play vs. Carolina.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Carolina Panthers outside linebacker Thomas Davis won't be spying on the Falcons this week.

For the past two seasons, Davis' primary role when the Panthers played the Falcons twice a year was to spy on elusive quarterback Michael Vick. Davis' mission was fairly simply -- follow Vick wherever he went on the field and take him out.

But while the Panthers are still at war, so to speak, with their NFC South rivals, the state of affairs dramatically changed this off-season.

With Vick suspended indefinitely by the NFL for his role in a dog-fighting ring, the Panthers no longer need a spy. Joey Harrington will run the Falcons offense this Sunday when the Panthers visit the Georgia Dome, and he can't transform into a running back quite the same way Vick could.

As for Davis, he'll still be in the starting lineup for the Panthers, but it will be just like any other game.

"It's definitely a totally different game plan for me this time," Davis said. "I get to line up and just play football this week, sort of like I do every week. I don't have to worry about spying."

The Panthers drafted Davis in the first round in 2005 because, in part, he gave the team a weapon to defend against Vick.

You may recall that Vick had become a terrific thorn in the side of Carolina defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac from 2002-2004, winning all five starts against the Panthers.

He became the guy they couldn't beat.

But when Davis arrived, things changed.

The Panthers finally had someone fast enough to chase Vick around and keep him contained. Carolina got over the Vick jinx and won three of the last four games from the Falcons.

"The game plan was a lot easier for me when I'm spying because all I had to worry about was where he was," Davis said. "I basically spied on him wherever he went. Now it's a different game plan. I have to go out and prepare for Atlanta the way we would every other team. It's just different now."

PLAYER NOTES

RG Jeremy Bridges will start this week for Carolina after missing the last two weeks with a suspension.

CB Curtis Deloatch will be the team's No. 4 corner this week.

DE Stanley McClover (groin) did not practice Thursday and may not play again this week.

FS Deke Cooper did not practice again Thursday so don't be surprised if Marquand Manuel gets his first start against Atlanta.

FS Marquand Manuel may start this week with Deke Cooper nursing a groin injury.

WR Steve Smith should face a tough matchup this week against DeAngelo Hall.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

With his team off to a wobbly 0-2 start, Saints coach Sean Payton knows there has to be a sense of urgency going into Monday night's game against the Tennessee Titans.

At the same time, Payton knows that he can't overreact to the situation and panic over players who have not performed to their capabilities in losses to the Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Bucs.

When asked earlier this week if he would take a look at some free agent kickers considering Olindo Mare has made just one of his three attempts this season and had a poor kickoff last Sunday, Payton quickly dismissed the notion.

If he considered replacing everyone who was struggling, Payton said, "I'd be bringing a lot of people in."

With that said, Payton noted he wasn't ready to make lineup changes. But, he indicated that some players could see increased or reduced playing time in Monday night's game.

"The key is not fooling yourself and the players not fooling themselves," Payton said. "When you watch the tape, what are the things that keep you from winning?

"I don't believe it's just, 'Hey, guys have got to make plays.' There's more to it than that. Obviously, you want guys to make big plays, but there's a lot that goes into that."

An extra day to prepare for the Titans wasn't a bad thing for the Saints, who have struggled in all three phases of the game.

It also gave Payton and his staff some time to analyze themselves and every one of their team's shortcomings. One of the things he mentioned was questionable play calling by the head coach.

"There are certain things that myself and our staff can do a better job with, and we'll look to do that," Payton said.

PLAYER NOTES

RB Deuce McAllister returned to practice Thursday after being held out of Wednesday's workout with swelling in his right knee. He should be ready for Monday's game.

DT Kendrick Clancy, who has a turf toe injury to his right foot, missed his second straight practice Thursday and could be sidelined for Monday night's game with the Tennessee Titans.

DT Hollis Thomas, the Saints' best run-stopper when he manages to keep his weight down, should start if Clancy can't go against the Titans.

S Jay Bellamy did not practice Thursday because of a sprained left ankle. His status for Monday's game likely won't be determined until the weekend.

C/G Jonathan Goodwin was back at practice Thursday after missing Wednesday's workout with a mild back sprain. He should be available for the game with the Titans.

DE Renaldo Wynn, who was signed last week, could see his first action with the Saints as a backup to starters Will Smith and Charles Grant against the Titans.


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