Behind Enemy Lines is a weekly look at Tampa Bay’s NFC South foes every Wednesday. Let’s spy on the Bucs’ division rivals, shall we?
At the moment Mark Cook is on vacation, so Matt Matera jumps in this week for the latest in the NFC South.
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• Now that Julio Jones is in Tennessee, the Falcons have some updates going on with their other star receiver, Calvin Ridley. The new No. 1 receiver in Atlanta just got minor foot surgery last week to clean up some in-season injuries. Ridley stated that he’s pretty sure he’ll be ready in time by training camp, but he did participate in walkthroughs with the Falcons this week.
“[It’s} regular, with meetings and treatment,” Ridley said after practice via Falcons.com. “I did walk throughs. You just didn’t see me on the field. I’m doing regular things. I did a walk-through just before I came in here. I’m right where those guys are. It was just minor. I can walk and all that right now. I’m taking it one day at a time.”
Calvin Ridley 'pretty sure' he'll be ready for Falcons training camp after offseason foot surgery.
• Along with recovering from surgery, Ridley is in a position where he takes on the leadership role in the Falcon’s locker room left behind by Jones. Ridley has made a star of himself in this league, but Jones will go down as arguably the greatest player in their franchise. Now Ridley is replacing him. He was asked if there’s any added pressure this year because of the situation.
“I played with Julio, Mohamed Sanu, since Day 1, those guys,” Ridley said in a report from Michael Rothstein. “I feel like I’ve been moving toward that way of I can do it by myself? Obviously I’m not by myself, we have other players who are really good, but I feel like I’ve been ready and I just needed an opportunity to get in those positions.”
Ridley also mentioned that the biggest thing he learned from Jones was about confidence.
• Mini-camp this week for the Falcons was the first team the whole team got to practice under new coach Arthur Smith. So far the players have taken a liking to his coaching method, particularly the offensive line. Smith is a former offensive lineman as well, playing guard at North Carolina.
“We’re always grateful to have an offensive lineman as a head coach,” said Falcons’ offensive guard Chris Lindstrom. “Coach Smith thinks in the mindset of an offensive lineman, and always means what he says. And, as a player, you can’t expect anything else than that. It’s always fun, you see him smile when he comes over the [offensive line’s individual drills]. He has a little pride in it. He enjoys it. As a group, when you have the head coach come down to your individual period, there’s a little extra juice.”
• Sam Darnold is the new quarterback for the Panthers this season. According to The Athletic’s Joe Person, Darnold’s first couple practices haven’t been the best. There’s been overthrows, tipped balls and a couple of interceptions along the way. However, Panthers coach Matt Rhule said that they planned to make it difficult for Darnold starting out.
“We have purposely taken the approach of developing Sam, and all of our quarterbacks this spring, as drop back passers and put a lot on them,” Rhule said. “More than most teams will probably do with a quarterback, more than probably the coaches are comfortable with.
“But for me it’s about just putting so much on those guys. Not giving them a bunch of easy plates where they can go out and feel confined and look good. Our defense is giving us a lot of different looks. So I want to stretch those guys and see what they do well and then we can be more targeted in training camp and into the season.”
• One receiver that’s definitely happy to see Darnold on his team again is Robby Anderson. The two were teammates on the Jets before Anderson signed with Carolina last season. He sees a rejuvenated Darnold since the quarterback joined the Panthers.
“When I walked in the building I could see a new energy out of him,” Anderson said in a story from ESPN’s David Newton. “Like a glow, charisma that I didn’t really see in New York. I can definitely see the difference in him so far. You know when a person can see like a glow, energy, their aura? I could kind of see that when I walked in the building.”
• The Panthers have gotten busy with signing their top picks from the NFL Draft. They agreed to deals with first round pick Jaycee Horn on Tuesday and second round pick Terrace Marshall Jr. on Thursday.
• Some former Panthers have been in the news lately over positive things. It was announced that wide receiver Steve Smith will be joining the Panthers’ as an analyst on television for their preseason games. With all due respect to Smith, the more important headline came from tight end Greg Olsen and his family.
For those who don’t know the story, Olsen’s eight-year old son T.J. was born with heart issues at birth and has been living with a modified heart all this time. Last week they were able to find an organ donor and receive a heart transplant. Thankfully the surgery was successful, and after a couple days of recovery at the hospital, T.J. got to go home on Wednesday and ring the bell. Absolutely great news. #PlayForTJ
Since the day TJ was admitted into the ICU we talked about the day we could “ring the bell”.
Today was that day! We are finally whole again and we couldn’t be more thankful!
• COVID Protocols for the 2021 season have been agreed upon between the NFL and NFLPA. As everyone pushes toward in-person interviews and access to facilities, coaches have encouraged their players to get vaccinated before the season gets going. According to Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated, the Saints are one of two teams that have achieved 85 percent vaccination on their roster. The other team is the Miami Dolphins.
Sources: Two teams have crossed the much-talked about 85% threshold for player vaccinations (fully vaccinated or in the process). Those two are the Dolphins and Saints.
Nothing's agreed upon yet, but NFL and NFLPA have discussed relaxed protocols for teams over that threshold.
• Sean Payton was getting a taste of show business as he was seen on set by TMZ for the movie “Home Team.” The film is based on the Saints’ bounty gate scandal and it stars actor Kevin James playing the role of Payton in the flick. It looks like Payton will have a small role as well and the movie is shooting in Louisiana, so he wasn’t far from practice.
• The retirement of Drew Brees leaves a void at not just the quarterback position, but in team leadership as well. Who on the Saints might step up as a leader? In a SaintsWire article, cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said on The Rich Eisen Show that it’ll be up to the team captains to get everything situated as they also monitor the quarterback competition between Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston.
“I think everybody’s looking to see how the leaders emerge, especially at the quarterback position,” Jenkins said. “To see Jameis and Taysom really step into their own personalities now, not being behind Drew. And obviously myself, Cam Jordan, Demario Davis, guys who have been veterans on this team, kind of molding those younger guys.”
• New Orleans is in the process of renovating the Mercedes-Benz Superdome during the offseason. They’re spending $450 million to build 12 more suites that will be near both end zones. The suites can contain between 20-24 people, which adds up to 240-288 people in the stadium, according to Rod Walker of NOLA.com. You can see the progress below.