NFC Notes: Falcons, Panthers, Saints

     

Falcons

  • In an interview on NFL Media’s “Good Morning Football,” Falcons S Keanu Neal said his recovery from an Achilles injury last season is going well and he’s excited to be back after missing the bulk of the year before with an ACL tear: “I feel like myself again. These past couple years have been tough… but I’m ready to get back w/ the guys & get things going.”

Panthers

  • Per the Athletic’s Joe Person, Panthers DC Phil Snow says the team plans to be multiple on defense and feature players like DE Brian Burns, second-round S Jeremy Chinn and free-agent pickup DB Juston Burris
  • Snow noted Burns and Panthers second-round DE Yetur Gross-Matos had room to add weight to play defensive end, while Panthers DE Marquis Haynes has already put on five pounds to get to 240. (Person)
  • Snow said the team has high expectations for CB Eli Apple: “You look at his size and speed, we expect him to play good.” (Person)
  • Snow also praised Panthers CB Donte Jackson‘s speed and physicality while adding he needed to be “more detailed.” (Person)
  • Panthers DB coach Jason Simmons is someone Snow expects to eventually be a defensive coordinator. (Person)
  • As for the defense’s performance in 2020, Snow said to expect some growing pains given the personnel turnover and transition to a new scheme with limited practice time:

    “There’s no substitute for experience. The way we all learn is we get our butts kicked. In our business, that’s how you learn. There are going to be some growing pains.” (Steve Reed)

Saints

By far the biggest addition the Saints made on offense this offseason was signing WR Emmanuel Sanders in free agency. Sanders provides New Orleans another established receiver for the defense to account for in addition to WR Michael Thomas, TE Jared Cook and RB Alvin Kamara. Saints WR coach Ronald Curry is excited for the flexibility Sanders should give QB Drew Brees, especially in clutch situations like third down and the red zone. 

“He’s a transitional player; you want to get the ball in his hands, you’ve got a vision for him on third down, winning one-on-one matchups in the red zone,” Curry said via the Athletic’s Katherine Terrell. “You feel like he’s going to fit in like Ted Ginn, a veteran that’s going to be where he’s supposed to be, on time, for Drew. Drew is a person that he needs a lot of work with. It doesn’t matter who it is that comes in here, he likes to find ways to work with guys and seeing their body language and how they get in and out of routes. We have a vision for him on third down and how we can use him, maybe taking some of that option stuff off of (Alvin Kamara’s) plate and some of the stuff that Ted Ginn was doing, double moves … transitional stuff. There’s a lot of stuff in this offense. … but we’ve got to see what he can handle first, too.”

That’s not to say that the Saints aren’t excited about some of the other younger receivers on the roster, specifically 2018 third-round WR Tre’Quan Smith and 2019 All-Pro rookie returner Deonte Harris. Curry says Smith can have a breakout year if he fixes his stance and gets some more opportunities, while Harris is someone the Saints are excited to expand a role for on offense. But Curry says the rest of the offense is so established that Smith and Harris for the most part aren’t getting opportunities drawn up for them. 

“It’s not because the player can’t play. It’s more because when you’re drawing up the offense, first you’re going to think about Mike and then you’re probably going to think about Cook and then you’re probably going to think about AK,” Curry said. “So by the time you get to these guys, it’s kind of like basketball, you’re going to think about LeBron, LeBron, LeBron until he has to kick it to the corner for somebody else to shoot. You don’t draw those plays up for those guys, the ball just finds them and that’s just the way our offense (works). A lot of the plays are not drawn up for Tre’Quan and Shorty B (Harris), but eventually they double-team Mike … double-team Cook and somebody has to step up and then the ball finds them.”

  • While Saints WR Emmanuel Butler flashed during the preseason, he got hurt and ended up spending the entire year on the practice squad. Curry wants to see Butler improve his ability on special teams to help carve out a role on the final roster. 
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