Behind Enemy Lines is a weekly look at Tampa Bay’s NFC South foes every Tuesday morning. Let’s spy on the Bucs’ division rivals, shall we?
• Count Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan as a fan of his new running back Todd Gurley who was signed by Atlanta following his release by the Rams earlier this year. Ryan has been working out with Gurley and other players in California this offseason and has come away impressed.
“I’ve gotten to work with Todd, and he’s awesome,” Ryan told Vaughn McClure of ESPN. “Really, really good guy. A hard worker. He’s super smart. The stuff I was telling him one day, the next day he had it down. I was really impressed with his ability to retain information. You don’t have to tell him twice. He’s on it.”
Gurley, who’s knee issues were part of his release from Los Angeles, will be the featured back if healthy, but the Falcons will use a rotation that will include Brian Hill and Ito Smith this year to limit the number of snaps for Gurley.
“I think he’s going to be an awesome fit for us,” Ryan said, “And I’m glad we have him.”
• Atlanta was one or the cities that saw large protesters gather following the murder of George Floyd two weeks ago.
Ryan made a large financial commitment to the city in hopes of making positive changes in the community, donating $500,000 with plans to raise $2 million.
“I see my city hurting, which is why I’m starting a fundraiser to help improve conditions for people of color in the city of Atlanta,” Ryan said, “Over the next few weeks, months I’m going to listen to the needs of the black community and get guidance on how I can be most impactful. I’m going to get input from local grassroots organizations as well as community leaders who are committed to making change.”
• Luke Kuechly is back with the Panthers – just not as the team’s best defensive player. Kuechly rejoined the Panthers organization last week officially, becoming a college scout.
“During the season, it’ll be player evaluation and then advance scouting stuff,” Kuechly said according to the team’s website. “So if we play a team next week, we’ve got to get everything set up and ready to go, so when the coaches come in on Monday, they’re not starting from square one.”
Kuechly, who abruptly retired following the 2019 season due to injury concerns with concussions is glad to be back on the football field, even if he isn’t in a uniform.
“I’ve never really done anything like this, so I’m just going to take it a day at a time and see what I think,” Kuechly said. “I think it’ll be fun. It’s still going to be football. It’s still going to be around good people. That’s what matters.”
• The NFL informed teams recently that training camps must be held at their own facilities this year which means some teams who have traditionally trained in other areas will be staying home. The Panthers are one of those teams that will be staying put as opposed to taking their training camp show on the road to Wofford College in South Carolina.
Carolina spent their first 25 years in Spartanburg but will skip a year before hopefully returning in 2021.
“We are aware of the league’s decision regarding training camp and support its goal of ensuring the safety of fans, players, coaches and staff,” the team said. “We value our longstanding relationship with Wofford and the Spartanburg area and look forward to returning in 2021.”
• The Panthers let longtime tight end Greg Olsen got this offseason and hoped to find his replacement when they signed former Jags and Browns tight end Seth DeValve this spring. But last week the team released DeValve a with non-football injury designation.
New Orleans Saints
• Saints star quarterback Drew Brees created a big stir nationally last week when asked about NFL players kneeling during the national anthem.
“I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country,” Brees told Yahoo Finance in an interview. “Let me just tell what I see or what I feel when the national anthem is played and when I look at the flag of the United States. I envision my two grandfathers, who fought for this country during World War II, one in the Army and one in the Marine Corp. Both risking their lives to protect our country and to try to make our country and this world a better place. So every time I stand with my hand over my heart looking at that flag and singing the national anthem, that’s what I think about. And in many cases, that brings me to tears, thinking about all that has been sacrificed.”
Those comments created a backlash, from current teammates, to NBA players and later on even president Donald Trump. Brees seemed to double down on his stance when clarifying his comments the next day after several teammates spoke out.
“I love and respect my teammates and I stand right there with them in regards to fighting for racial equality and justice,” Brees said. “I also stand with my grandfathers who risked their lives for this country and countless other military men and women who do it on a daily basis.”
As the controversy grew Brees had conversations with some teammates and seemed to realize why his comments might have been viewed as non-supportive to those fighting oppression within the black community. Last Thursday Brees released another statement, this time on Instagram.
“I would like to apologize to my friends, teammates, the City of New Orleans, the black community, NFL community and anyone I hurt with my comments yesterday,” Brees wrote. “In speaking with some of you, it breaks my heart to know the pain I have caused.
“In an attempt to talk about respect, unity, and solidarity centered around the American flag and the national anthem, I made comments that were insensitive and completely missed the mark on the issues we are facing right now as a country. They lacked awareness and any type of compassion or empathy. Instead, those words have become divisive and hurtful and have misled people into believing that somehow I am an enemy. This could not be further from the truth, and is not an accurate reflection of my heart or my character.” (read full statement here)
Over the next few days, Brees’ teammates and others who spoke out against him seemed to change their tune, including teammate Demario Davis who said Brees’ showed true “leadership” and wide receiver Michael Thomas who tweeted he has accepted Brees apology.
Not everyone around the league was so forgiving however. Eagles defensive lineman Malik Jackson said he has the game with New Orleans scheduled for December of this year already circled on his calendar.
“I don’t accept his apology,” Jackson said told NJ.com. “I think he’s only apologizing because people came for him and people are disagreeing with him and he understands that his base in Louisiana, there’s a lot of black people.
“Definitely excited to play him this year. I’m going to have a lot to say. Hopefully, I don’t get too wild with it, but I don’t understand how you could say that when you have people blocking for you who are black, catching balls from you who are black and people that are running the ball for you who are black.”