Behind Enemy Lines is a look at Tampa Bay’s NFC South foes every week. Let’s spy on the Bucs’ division rivals, shall we?
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• The Falcons are in search of a new head coach and general manager, and the team is already beginning the process of finding replacements for Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff.
Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles will reportedly interview for the open job next week according to Pro Football Talk, and the team has already completed an interview with 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and interim coach Raheem Morris. According to a number of reports, the Falcons have requested permission to interview Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady and Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith as well.
Owner Arthur Blank and president and CEO Rich McKay are conducting the search and will also be looking to fill the shoes of Dimitroff, who was fired along with Quinn last October. Atlanta already has interviewed a number of candidates for general manager, including TV analyst Louis Riddick and Saints vice president/assistant general manager of pro personnel Terry Fontenot.
Blank talked about what the Falcons are looking for with the team’s website recently.
“I think we need to win, and that’s what our fans are counting on, that’s what they’re signed up for,” Blank said. “We ask them for a lot: Their resources, their commitment, their energy, their passion, their time – and all of that of their families as well.”
• The Falcons had some quarterback news this week as well, but it has nothing to do with Matt Ryan. Blank revealed that veteran backup Matt Schaub would be retiring after being a Falcons third-round pick in 2004, where he spent three years as a backup in Atlanta before joining Houston in 2007. Schaub returned to Atlanta as Ryan’s backup in 2016 after stints in Oakland and Baltimore.
• One last coaching note – while it seems unlikely that Morris will be named permanent coach of the Falcons, he has drawn some interest from other teams including the Jacksonville Jaguars. Morris is also a candidate to replace Saleh in San Francisco if the defensive coordinator gets a head coaching job elsewhere, according to reports. Morris was 4-7 with the Falcons this year after replacing Quinn and went 17-31 in three years as head coach of the Buccaneers from 2009-2011.
• Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said last week he wanted to see his team end the season on a high note and build some momentum heading into the offseason. Unfortunately for Rhule he got the exact opposite from his team in a 33-7 loss to the Saints, ending his first season in the NFL with a 5-11 record.
With the loss, the Panthers locked up the No. 8 overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater had a solid but not great season, and he knows the Panthers could be looking for his replacement in the upcoming draft.
Teddy Bridgewater on the potential for the Panthers to draft a QB with the No. 8 pick: “I understand that business is business. … I have to control what I can control and that is how hard I work.”
Rhule told the media this week, Bridgwater needs a good offseason.
“Teddy has to have a tremendous offseason,” Rhule told ESPN. “Part of being a quarterback in this league is being able to withstand the physical toll of the season, playing your best football at the end of the year. I don’t think I’ve seen that from him.”
Rhule made no guarantees when addressing Bridgewater’s future in Carolina.
“Teddy is here. I have a lot of respect for him,” Rhule said. “I believe in what he can do. I’ve seen glimpses, flashes of us as an offense looking really good. We need to get Christian [McCaffrey] back. We need to have a run game we can rely on. With regards to the draft and players, we’ll look at every opportunity to have the best we can have at every position, and that includes the quarterback position.”
• The Panthers, like the Falcons, have a front office opening and have been conducting and setting up interviews to replace the fired Marty Hurney. Colts assistant GM Ed Dodds is the latest set to interview for the vacant position. Carolina has already interviewed a number of candidates, including Bills assistant GM Joe Schoen, former Giants GM Jerry Reese and Saints assistant GM Jeff Ireland.
• The Panthers announced this week they have signed ERFA kicker Joey Slye to a new one-year deal. Slye has kicked for Carolina the last two seasons and was 29-of-36 on field goals and 33-of-36 on extra points this year.
New Orleans Saints
• The Saints begin their march through the playoffs on Sunday as they host the Chicago Bears. But will star receiver Michael Thomas be on the field? Head coach Sean Payton said he isn’t sure yet if Thomas will play.
“I’m gonna see what this week holds,” Payton told ESPN. “Currently he’s still on reserve-injured. I know he’s been working at it. But we’ll get a better feel this week how he’s progressing.”
Ian Rapoport reported Thomas likely plays against the Bears.
#Saints WR Michael Thomas is expected to practice today on a limited basis and will ramp up during the week, source said. Thomas went on IR to allow his high-ankle injury to heal, and the progress has been good. Looking solid vs. #Bears.
• Payton was also coy when asked about the availability of star running back Alvin Kamara, who missed last week’s game after testing positive for COVID-19.
“We’ll see,” Payton told the media when asked. “I think it would depend on the player and the situation. A lot of that will be our decision based on where we think we are with the week, the player. We’ve got to be smart.”
Sunday will be the first day Kamara will be eligible to come off of the reserve/COVID list.
• The Bears come to town on Sunday having lost to the Saints earlier this season, but that was with Nick Foles under center not current starter Mitch Trubisky. Payton was asked about the Bears offense since making the change at quarterback.
“Well, I think you see a little bit more under center run game,” Payton said. “They’re doing a good job with the play-action boots and nakeds off of it. I think they’re playing well up front and I think it’s been a little bit more of a complementary game and listen, I think that you see a little different team.”
Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, the beach and family time.Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at email@example.com