NFC South Hot Topic: Dec. 14

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, including news on the Falcons as they prepare for the Bucs.

ATLANTA FALCONS

The Falcons tried to move beyond the Michael Vick-Bobby Petrino drama that overwhelmed the franchise this week, but running back Warrick Dunn said players are still "numb," because of the emotional typhoon they've been through.

Dunn and several players said they feel players are more at ease and have galvanized some, but that it will be hard to tell how they will be able to maintain their mental energy against Tampa Bay Sunday. Well-liked and respected interim coach Emmitt Thomas said he thinks players will compete hard for the remaining coaches but,

"The main thing is to show us when the play," Thomas said. "That's the best way to do that. They've got to play well."

Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson will call plays, something that he has done before collegiately and with the Washington Redskins under Steve Spurrier. He said he plans to scale down the playbook and the number of plays in order to develop some form of identity and consistency.

Quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave will help develop the game plan.

Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer will continue to run the defense. Thomas will get the chance to manage the game, which is something he said he's excited to do.

As for the Falcons' coaching search, president and general manager Rich McKay and his staff have begun to put together a short list but the process will take time. Former Steelers coach Bill Cowher is expected to be contacted by the Falcons, as is San Francisco defensive assistant head coach Mike Singletary.

Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett is another likely candidate. Jackson, Thomas and Zimmer are expected to get some consideration for the head job as well.

PLAYER NOTES

--CB DeAngelo Hall said now that Bobby Petrino is gone, he would like to remain with the Falcons. Hall has one year remaining on his contract but all signs pointed to him being traded in the offseason because of a rift with Petrino. He hopes to start contract extension talks this summer.

"I want to be here," Hall said. "Probably the lead guy who didn't want me here is gone so my chances to be here are looking pretty good. Losing isn't fun for anybody so there need to be some steps taken in the offseason to help us win. That will ultimately determine if I sign a long-term deal here. (Team owner) Arthur Blank knows that, (president and general manager) Rich McKay knows that. I feel like we're going to get the right people here and I feel like I'm going to be here."

--Petrino might not be the only staffer getting a college head coaching job. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson interviewed for Duke's head coaching position on Thursday. Jackson has never been a head coach and wants the opportunity. If things don't work at Duke, he said he hopes to get an interview for the Falcons' head coaching position. Jackson was bypassed for the interim position once Petrino was fired but he will call the plays for the final three games.

--QB Byron Leftwich, who backed up Chris Redman last week, has been demoted to No. 3 quarterback for the remainder of the season. Joey Harrington will back up Redman. Thomas said the depth charts have been set in a way to give the Falcons the best chance to win.

--Second-year FS Jimmy Williams is back in the mix. After being inactive the past two games, Williams will be the safety in nickel packages against Tampa Bay. Antoine Harris, who has been the nickel safety, is still recovering from a knee injury. Interim coach Emmitt Thomas, who is Williams' position coach, said Williams' play in the secondary had not been the problem but that his poor play on special teams led to his demotion. Thomas said he hopes the two-game benching got Williams' attention.

--WR Roddy White has been bothered by a knee injury but he is expected to return to practice Friday and be ready to start against the Bucs.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Carolina Panthers quarterback Vinny Testaverde was held out of practice again on Thursday, increasing the possibility that rookie Matt Moore could make his first NFL start Sunday against Seattle.

Coach John Fox said he wants to play the quarterback that gives his team the best chance to win -- and clearly that is Testaverde.

One thing is for certain -- David Carr will not start for Carolina.

The Panthers listed Testaverde on the injury report as a "team decision," but the reason he's out is basic overall body soreness. There really is no injury category for that.

Testaverde is 44 and when he signed with Carolina earlier this season he didn't think there was any way he'd start five games for the Panthers. He's 2-3 as the team's starter.

Fox said rest is more important than reps for Testaverde at this point.

He is confident Testaverde won't need a lot of reps to play Sunday.

In the meantime, Moore is preparing as though he will start in case Testaverde is still too sore to go.

"As it relates to personnel decisions, we're evaluating the guy who gives us in our opinion the best chance to win," Fox said. "It's not just the quarterback position -- that would be any position."

Fox also said: "We haven't had as consistent a play at the quarterback position for some time now, regardless of the defense and obviously Seattle's playing very well. It'll honestly be who we think this week gives us the best chance to win."

The Panthers are likely to struggle against the Seahawks anyway, but they are likely to have even more problems if Moore starts.

Seattle's defense is second in the league in sacks.

"I don't really think too much about that," Moore said. "I've just got to worry about my game and the offense, whatever, but any defense is going to throw a challenge at you and we've just got to be aware of it and stay on top of it."

Moore has played in six games for Carolina but never started.

"I mean, it would be an opportunity like I've been saying," Moore said. "This week's practice has gone good, yesterday and today have gone pretty good, so if it happens I've just got to go out there and make things happen. Move the ball and just be efficient."

PLAYER NOTES

--RB DeAngelo Williams will get more than three carries this week against Seattle, but will not necessarily start or get the majority of tackles. He carried 17 times the week before.

--DE Julius Peppers said Thursday that he doesn't expect his poor season will affect his market value. He is under contract through 2008, but the Panthers are likely to extend his contract.

--WR Keary Colbert (knee) has missed back-to-back practices and will likely be out for Sunday's game.

--WR Dwayne Jarrett (knee) is back to work this week and may see action with Keary Colbert nursing a knee injury.

--RG Jeremy Bridges returned to practice after missing practice Wednesday because of a tooth problem.

--QB Vinny Testaverde did not practice again Thursday. Coach John Fox said right now rest is more important that reps. Testaverde's body is very sore.

--QB Matt Moore may need to start this week against Seattle if Vinny Testaverde can't go.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Despite a torn posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, Saints running back Reggie Bush has not given up on playing again this season.

Bush, who had an MRI on Dec. 6 that revealed the ligament damage, got a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews last Monday. But Bush continues to refute national media reports that he's done for the season.

The Saints apparently think he can return, if not for the regular season, perhaps for a playoff game if the Saints qualify for post-season play. On Wednesday, they decided to keep him on the 53-man active roster rather than putting him on injured reserve.

"I told (the Saints decision-makers) that I want to play, and I don't want to be on (injured reserve)," Bush said. "I want to be back as soon as possible. I'm going to do everything I can."

Saints coach Sean Payton did not completely rule out the possibility that Bush may land on injured reserve before the season ends, but said the reports that the second-year pro would not play again this year were premature.

"We didn't make any final decisions," said Payton, who consulted with General Manager Mickey Loomis and the Saints' medical staff Tuesday. "Like I said in the very beginning, when those reports came out, I thought they were a little (premature). And they still remain a little (premature) in my opinion."

Bush said he doesn't know exactly when the injury occurred, although it probably happened in a 27-23 loss to Tampa Bay on Dec. 2. Bush said he hurt his left knee against Jacksonville on Nov. 4, but an MRI at that time revealed no ligament tears.

Bush said he had never missed a game at any level, and had a difficult time watching the Saints' 34-14 win at Atlanta from the sideline.

"It's really frustrating," said Bush, who has struggled with fumbles and dropped passes as the Saints went from NFC preseason favorites to a 6-7 mark entering Sunday's game. "This kind of tops it: missing my first game, not being able to be out there with my teammates.

"This is what I do. This is what I love to do. And the fact that I wasn't able to be out there on the field, it took a toll on me."

PLAYER NOTES

--RB Reggie Bush did not practice Thursday because of a torn posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and will miss his second straight game Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.

--TE Eric Johnson missed Thursday's practice with a groin injury and was listed as day-to-day by coach Sean Payton.

--TE Billy Miller will likely start against the Cardinals if Johnson can't go Sunday.

--DT Brian Young was sidelined for the second straight day Thursday because of a chest cold.

--SLB Scott Fujita was excused from practice after his wife gave birth to twin daughters Thursday morning.


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