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?

Atlanta Falcons

• The Falcons are back in business – well kind of. Atlanta began opening their facility on Tuesday morning as a select number of employees were allowed back in the building for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the country back in March.


Commissioner Roger Goodell gave all teams the guidance to open up, and the Falcons and the state of Georgia have met the guidelines to begin a gradual reopening.

Some of the provisions outlined by Goodell in the memo include:

No more than 50 percent of non-player staff will be allowed back into facilities and that number cannot exceed 75 people.

No members of the coaching staff will be permitted in the building.

No players will be permitted in the building except those currently undergoing medical treatment or rehabilitation.

If a strength and conditioning coach is currently participating in a player’s rehab, he may may continue that work in the facility.

Approximately 22 of the 32 NFL teams are in states that have met the NFL guidelines for Phase 1 reopening, including the Buccaneers. How the 2020 NFL season plays out is still anyone’s guess. But this is a positive step in the right direction.

• A familiar name to Bucs fans popped up in the Falcons news feed last week, when Atlanta offensive coordinator and former Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter joined the Falcons media for a conference call.

Atlanta acquired running back Todd Gurley this offseason, and the biggest concern for most is his health. Koetter also wonders exactly how the Falcons will be able to use the former All-Pro.

Rams RB Todd Gurley
Rams RB Todd Gurley – Photo by: Getty Images

“The main question, that no one seems to know, is what is his health status, what’s his workload,” Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com reported. “He averaged about 17 touches a game last year, which is a little bit lower than he had been when he was All-Pro. We’re just gonna have to find that out once we get here and get him working.”

• Koetter also talked about the battle for the Falcons No. 3 receiver position behind Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, and thinks Russell Gage can fill that role.

“I think Russ is very, very talented, and I think we will see a jump in his game…when Russ got more opportunities, his talent started to show up,” Koetter said. “I think part of it is his confidence grew, and as his confidence grew he got better. Just for any player that goes from a role player to at least a part-time starter, I think consistency is the next phase.”

Carolina Panthers

• While the Falcons are opening their facility in a limited fashion this week, the Panthers won’t be following their lead despite meeting the guidelines as well, instead planning to keep their employees home until at least June 1, the Charlotte Observer reported.

The NFL required all team facilities to shut down March 25. The league is not allowing any coaches to return until all 32 team facilities meet the guidelines announced by Goodell last week.

• Panthers owner David Tepper recently spoke to CNBC and said he expects the NFL season to be played, but the question of fans is still up in the air.

“You won’t be having full stadiums, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have some fans in the stadium either,” Tepper said. “If you’re comfortable being in a closed airplane for a cross-country trip, 18 inches apart, maybe with two seats in between you and being five feet away from each other, you might be comfortable in an open-air stadium.”

Not having full stadiums can’t go over well with Bucs fans, if that in fact ends up being the case. With the excitement level of the 2020 season, tickets sales have been through the roof and many expect the Bucs to sell out their home schedule this year. And if teams are forced to distance fans, how will the teams determine who gets in and who stays home? Just more unanswered questions the league can’t answer right now.

• Running back Christian McCaffrey, like all NFL players, can’t work out with his teammates at the team’s facility. However, coming from a unique football family has afforded him an opportunity few have. McCaffrey and his two brothers, both college football quarterbacks, have been working out near his childhood home in Colorado. And who is supervising the workouts? Their father, Ed, a former NFL players and current college football coach.

New Orleans Saints

• New Orleans hopes they have found another weapon after reportedly signing former Packers jack-of-all trades Ty Montgomery. Green Bay drafted him in the third round in 2015 and he was used as a wide receiver and return man, before switching to running back.

•  Despite signing Jameis Winston as a free agent this spring, the Saints keep pumping up Taysom Hill as the quarterback in waiting to succeed Drew Brees. Saints head coach Sean Payton was a guest on a radio show last week and raved about Hill.

“For those that aren’t sold, it’s probably because they haven’t seen enough of him in games and I can certainly understand that,” Payton said, reported by Luke Johnson of the New Orleans Advocate. “Now, that being said, we’ve seen hundreds of reps that weren’t necessarily regular season games and we’ve seen some of the things we feel he can do on a consistent basis.

Saints head coach Sean Payton and QB Drew Brees
Saints head coach Sean Payton and QB Drew Brees – Photo by: Getty Images

“We think he’s going to be an outstanding NFL quarterback. He’s a very good athlete. But I think that’s a normal reaction for any fan relative to someone that is getting ready to play that position and they haven’t had the same amount of snaps to look at.”

• Speaking of Winston, Payton recently talked about the Bucs and Saints matchup in the season finale in 2014, a game in which the Buccaneers lost after leading at halftime. The Bucs ended up 2-14 and had the No. 1 overall pick by virtue of the loss. Of course Tampa Bay selected Winston the next spring.

“I’m excited to work with him. I know our coaching staff is,” Payton said. “When you go through this process and you’re looking at the draft, for instance, and you’re spending a lot of time on each position of the draft, and then you say, ‘Well, throw Winston into this draft,’ because we all can remember him coming out. I was there at his pro day. I sat right literally 5 yards behind him as he threw 80-something, 90-something passes. How would he grade? I think he’d fare extremely well in this class, in a number of classes, enough to where someone thought that much of him where they selected him the first pick of the draft.

“Heck, they lost the game on purpose to us at the end of the season prior with Lovie Smith. They forced Lovie to take his starters out of the game, so they could get the one spot to draft Jameis.”

• And lastly, another Bucs blast from the past made news this week when the Saints re-signed guard Patrick Omameh. The former Michigan standout started 16 games for the Buccaneers in 2014. Omameh has also spent time with the 49ers, Bears and Jaguars over his career.

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, surfing and family time at the beach. In addition, Cook can be found in front of a television or in Doak Campbell any time the FSU Seminoles are playing. 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 protected]
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BigSombrero

Saints and Falcons offenses are S-T-A-C-K-E-D, just like the Bucs.

Is there a tougher division in football?? NFC West and AFC West don’t have shit on the NFC South.

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Captain Sly

I like to say Juiced but you’re right. It’s going to come down to who can make a stop in the last 2 minutes of the game. This precisely why you re sign Suh, Barrett, JPP and draft Winfield high 2nd rd pick. Got to make a Stop!

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FireLichtMovement

NFC West is going to be dependent on how well the Seahawks improved their defense, and how many steps forward Kyler Murray takes with that thievery of a trade for DeAndre Hopkins. I think the NFC South is right there with the NFC West for the best in football. In the AFC West, the Broncos need a year or 2 to contend, and the Raiders have Jon Gruden, so no threat there lol. Top heavy division with the Chiefs reigning supreme.

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FireLichtMovement

The division to watch in the AFC imo, is the AFC North. Cleveland can turn it around, the Bungles have Joe Burrow who was the most NFL ready qb in the draft, Pittsburgh always a threat, and the best team in football the Ravens? Great division.

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