NFC South Hot Topic: Dec. 7

Hot Topic is your source for NFC South news at Bucsblitz.com. Today get updated on what's going on with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' division rivals, Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans, as they prepare for Sunday's games.

ATLANTA FALCONS

It is official. Chris Redman will become the third starting quarterback for the Falcons this season. Coach Bobby Petrino said Redman would start against the Saints Monday night.

The repeated ineffectiveness of Joey Harrington and Redman's inspired fourth-quarter production in last Sunday's 28-16 loss at St. Louis proved the impetus for change, Petrino said.

"We like the way (Redman) finished the game. The other day he gave us a lift. He gave us a lot of confidence," Petrino said. Chris has a real quick release and he's very accurate. He's always been a very accurate passer. He's able to get the ball out of his hand really fast, which helped the other day with our timing.

"He's really tough. He's always been able to stand in there and take a hit. It's good to see him back. He's fought through a lot."

Harrington and Byron Leftwich are jostling for the No. 2 job, with Leftwich's health (tailbone, ankle) being a possible impediment.

Redman's road to this point started last winter, when, after two days of workouts with the Arena League's Austin Wrangler's Petrino gave him a call. Before the arena thing, Redman was selling insurance door-to-door in Louisville. He had been out of football since injuries cut short his four-year career with the Baltimore Ravens in 2003.

"I don't take a play for granted any more," said Redman. "If I get an opportunity to step on the field, I'm going to make the best of it. This is my Super Bowl. That's my attitude and it's the way I'm going to finish my career."

Redman last started in 2002, when he opened six games with the Ravens. Shoulder and back injuries both resulted in operations that proved too debilitating for him to catch on with New England in Tennessee in training camp tryouts.

Redman's teammates, who played well for him against the Rams, seemed indifferent to the most recent quarterback change since they've gone through a total of five quarterback changes this season.

PLAYER NOTES

--RG Kynan Forney returned to his regular starting right guard spot at practice Thursday after being ruled inactive for last Sunday's game at St. Louis because of non-injury reasons. Forney did not play in Atlanta's Thanksgiving loss to Indianapolis because of a sinus infection.

--OLB Travis Williams was promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man roster Thursday. It was the second time this season the second-year player from Auburn was promoted. The Falcons had an open roster spot after placing OT Todd Weiner (left knee) on injured reserve last week.

--Atlanta also signed OG Travis Leffew to the practice squad. Leffew has spent time on the Bears' and Packers' practice squads and the Dallas Cowboys' active roster.

--Nickel package FS Antoine Harris (knee) is not expected to be ready to play Monday so backup CB Lewis Sanders would be moved to nickel back. FS Chris Crocker, who normally plays nickel back, would remain at nickel FS.

--QB Byron Leftwich said he is still very limited by right ankle and tailbone injuries. Leftwich had to have ankle surgery after getting hurt in his first Atlanta start vs. the host Saints. After three weeks of healing, Leftwich started against Tampa Bay, where he suffered a bruised tailbone that he said, in combination with his ankle, has made it to move sometimes.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

DeAngelo Williams is averaging 4.9 yards per carry, which is 1.3 yards per carry more than starter DeShaun Foster. And, with 18 of his 96 carries this season going for more 10 or more yards, he has shown explosiveness and big-play potential, something Foster has struggled to do this season. Foster has 19 runs of 10 yards or more despite having more than twice as many carries (203) as Williams.

Yet, you won't find Williams screaming that he should be the starter.

"It's not a problem at all," said Williams, who is averaging eight carries per game. "I did it at Memphis and I did it in high school. I wasn't a starter until my senior year in high school and I wasn't a starter at Memphis until my sophomore year. I have no problem splitting time -- whatever it takes for the team to win."

Of course, in both cases Williams eventually became the featured back.

"If it happens, it happens," Williams said of possibly one day becoming the starter. "I just try to be productive and become consistent because consistency matters in this league.

Last week, after Foster missed some plays after getting kneed in the head, Williams carried a season-high 17 times for 82 yards. He ran for 121 yards in a Week 6 win over Arizona.

After the game, he drew the praise of coach John Fox.

"From what I see, he understands some of the blocking schemes a little bit better, how to set some blocks up a little bit better," Fox said. "I just see him becoming more consistent, and this thing is a lot about accountability."

It's something Williams has noticed, too.

"You just have to learn to be patient," he said. "It's not about hitting the hole as fast as you can. It's about letting a play develop and letting the big guys work for you up front.

"Coming out of college, you're taught to hit the spot as fast as you can. At this level you can't do that because you have to set blocks up. You have to make guys do what you want them to do in order to be successful in this League. I've caught onto that now. I'm slowing myself down in the backfield. I've learned."

Williams doesn't have the advantage of getting into the flow of the game from the start and rarely approaches 17 carries in a game. Most running backs will tell you they don't begin to hit their stride until they get about 15 carries and they get stronger as the game progresses.

"It does take some running backs more carries to get in a rhythm and to get in the flow of the offense, but this is the NFL," he said. "Everybody is good at this level. Everybody is exceptional. And the one thing that separates guys who make plays from guys who don't could be that extra work in the film room or that extra work before or after practice. Bottom line is you just have to be productive when you're in there."

PLAYER NOTES

--RB DeShaun Foster returned to practice after sitting out Wednesday with a head injury. He practiced on a full basis and said there's no doubt that he will play this Sunday against the Jaguars. Look for Foster to start, but the going will be tough against one of the better defensive front sevens in football.

--SS Chris Harris returned Thursday and participated in all of practice and should be ready for the Jaguars.

--WR Dwayne Jarrett (knee) did not practice on Thursday and was due to have an MRI on his knee. Trainers want to check out his MCL, Jarrett said. Jarrett is the only Carolina player likely to miss Sunday's game due to an injury.

--LB Na'il Diggs (calf) returned to practice Thursday and will play Sunday.

--QB Vinny Testaverde has thrown for 299 yards or more four different times in his career against the Jaguars. The Jaguars aren't very good against the pass so expect Testaverde to air it out if he has a chance.

--WR Steve Smith has not caught a touchdown pass in the last six games.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

It was just one week ago that Saints coach Sean Payton refused to talk about playoff scenarios, warning his team that it would do no good to be thinking about what will happen at the end of December.

It's the same song, second verse for this week's game with the Atlanta Falcons, thanks to last Sunday's bitter 27-23 loss to the Tampa Bay Bucs.

While Payton still believes his team can make the postseason, it can't afford to look that far ahead. The best thing the Saints can do is win four straight games heading down the stretch to make a run at a second straight playoff appearance.

"Teams that end up not only making the playoffs but doing some damage and advancing are teams that play well down the stretch -- particularly in December," Payton said. "If you just went back and look back, teams that won their championship game and went on and played well in the Super Bowl, they played good football the latter part of the season."

Despite the heartbreaking loss to the Bucs, Payton and quarterback Drew Brees remained optimistic that the Saints can still make the playoffs even though four teams -- the New York Giants (8-4), Minnesota (6-6), Detroit (6-6) and Arizona (6-6) -- are ahead of them, while several others are tied with them in the wild-card chase.

"We have made it a little harder on ourselves," Brees said, "but we have been in some situations this season where the going has been tough, and I feel like we all stuck together and found a way to get back on track and I think once again we'll have to do that. We're very lucky to be in that position, and we should all look at that as an opportunity."

And that's how Payton expects his team to approach Monday's game and the next three -- that they're in it until they're not.

"There's this finality at times that each team hits throughout the course of the season if they're not going to make the postseason," he said. "We have not hit that finality, but we are going to have to play better. We have four games left and we're going to have to play a lot better."

PLAYER NOTES

--RB/KR Pierre Thomas, who did not play last week against Tampa Bay, did not participate in practice Thursday with a bruised kidney. Saints coach Sean Payton said Thomas is getting better, but more tests will have to be done to determine when he can return.

--LCB Mike McKenzie was able to practice fully Thursday after being held out of the closing minutes of last week's game because he was spitting up blood. He should be ready for Monday night's game at Atlanta.

--DT McKinley Boykin returned to practice Thursday after missing last week's game with swelling in his left knee.

--RB Jamaal Branch, who was waived from the active roster on Tuesday, was re-signed to the practice squad.

--S Jay Bellamy, who was released to open a roster spot for Branch last week, was re-signed to the 53-man roster on Tuesday.


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