Behind Enemy Lines is a weekly look at Tampa Bay’s NFC South foes every Tuesday. Let’s spy on the Bucs’ division rivals, shall we?
• Many thought that the struggling Falcons were going to fire head coach Dan Quinn during the middle of the season after a 1-7 start. But they held onto him, and the Falcons rebounded to a 7-9 record and came in second place in the NFC South after defeating the Bucs in the regular season finale, 28-22, in overtime.
That doesn’t mean Quinn is off the hot seat, though, as general manager Thomas Dimitroff stated on the Falcons’ Bird Noises Podcast. Atlanta is planning on having a winning season. If there’s anything less than that, speculation is that it could cost Quinn his job when the 2020 season is all said and done.
“There are high expectations coming into this season,” Dimitroff said. “Everyone knows that. No one is shying away from that – Dan and myself included. I do believe this is a very talented football team. We need to continue to grow together as a football team. We need to continue to be consistent and work through things together.”
• The Panthers are in a transition period on both sides of the ball this season, and there was no bigger loss for their defense than the retirement of team captain and Pro Bowler Luke Keuchly, who is the best middle linebacker in team history. Naturally, there is going to be someone that has to take his place, and defensive coordinator Phil Snow has made that announcement.
On Zoom conference call, DC Phil Snow says Tahir Whitehead will start off at MLB.
— Bill Voth (@PanthersBill) June 17, 2020
During a Zoom conference call with reporters, Snow said that it would be eight-year veteran Tahir Whitehead that would be the starting middle linebacker when the season began. Whitehead played for the Detroit Lions and Oakland Raiders over his career before signing with the Panthers this offseason.
Whitehead has started in 86 of 125 games, recording 633 tackles, three sacks and one interception. While Whitehead will enter the year as the starter, Tim Weaver of the Panthers Wire points out that weakside linebacker Shaq Thompson is the linebacker in waiting in the wings that will be the future starting MIKE linebacker down the road after singing a four-year deal.
New Orleans Saints
• Much has been made of Jameis Winston signing a one-year deal with the Saints this offseason, but it’s Taysom Hill that may end up being the quarterback of the future in the Big Easy whenever Drew Brees decides to retire.
As B.T. Boylan of Sports Illustrated writes, it’s important that Hill is as ready to go as can be when he is ushered in as the new Saints quarterback. And quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi said in a recent Zoom conference call that timing is the biggest factor for him right now.
“A lot of it is just timing of plays,” Lombardi said.”Like when you’re in the pocket and you’re so used to seeing how Drew [Brees] plays. We get spoiled with that. Like when the ball comes out of his hand and there’s an anticipation level and there’s a trust level. And I think he went a long time where it was always like, ‘Man, you could have gotten rid of it a hitch earlier,’ let’s say.
“And he’s got such a strong arm you often would catch up to it. Or maybe the ball arrived at the same time that it would have (similar timing to when) Drew threw it because he just threw it faster, but he was later. And maybe his eyes stuck there a little bit too long, which may give a defensive back time to break on it.”
Hill signed a two-year, $21 million contract in April, which is a lot of money invested into someone that’s been primarily used as utility player on offense. It was very important to the organization to have Hill return with the plans they have for him moving forward.
“We’re very excited to have him,” Lombardi said. “I think we’re excited about his future. We are definitely excited about his future. And so, yeah, I think getting that commitment to him, him feeling that commitment from the team and knowing that we have him around for a couple more years, yeah, it makes us sleep a lot better.”