Behind Enemy Lines is a weekly 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 Atlanta Falcons nabbed tight end Kyle Pitts with the overall No. 4 pick in this year’s NFL Draft, but they clearly had options. In a video released on the team website, general manager Terry Fontenot takes a call as the Falcons are on the clock and the team trying to move up is believed to have been the Detroit Lions.
Fontenot recently confirmed on Sirius XM NFL Radio that Pitts was their target all along and it would have taken a monumental offer to trade out of the spot.
“No way we weren’t drafting Kyle Pitts right there on the clock,”Fontenot said. “Look, I talked to a lot of former general managers just in general and just people I respect in the business, coaches. And everyone else [would have] made that same pick.
“We did have an open line and we listened to teams, and you have to listen and see if there’s going to be compensation that knocks your socks off. So we listened and we didn’t have any offers that really moved the meter in that way. So we were really excited about selecting that player.”
• The Falcons added a dynamic play-maker in Pitts but there are still question marks about who gets the bulk of the carries at running back. Atlanta did sign former Panthers back Mike Davis this offseason in free agency, but their running backs coach Desmond Kitchings told The Athletic it’s a wide open race.
Last season’s No. 1 back, Todd Gurley, is no longer with the team. So for now Davis is the favorite to get the first shot as the starter. But Atlanta will also give 2019 fifth-round pick Qadree Ollison and undrafted rookie Javian Hawkins an opportunity in training camp.
• The Buccaneers took Florida standout Kyle Trask in the second round of the draft. But the player Trask took over for under center for the Gators, Felipe Franks, is also new to the NFC South, as the Falcons signed Franks as an undrafted free agent.
New QB coach Charles London is happy to have Franks aboard.
“Feleipe has a really unique skill set,” London told the AJC. “He has a big arm. He’s a really athletic guy. He had traits that as an offensive staff we were excited about and we wanted to work with them. We were thrilled to get him in the undrafted process.”
• The Panthers passed on quarterbacks Justin Fields and Mac Jones in the first round of the draft. But head coach Matt Rhule told The Rich Eisen Show last week that proves his confidence in Sam Darnold, who the team traded for last month.
“I love those guys and I think they’re gonna be great NFL players,” Rhule said. “I just think for us, when we got Sam and knowing he’s 23-years-old, just turned 24, we just felt like Sam plus another player would be better for the team overall.
“Bill Parcells once said one player can’t do it alone. We’re just trying to build the whole team and I just believe in Sam. I believe that he deserves the opportunity to go out and play with us. I think those other young quarterbacks are gonna be fantastic players. But the hit rate on first-round quarterbacks isn’t real, real high. And to have a chance to get Jaycee Horn and have Sam Darnold, we just kind of felt like, ‘Hey this is two for one.’ Now, we just have to make sure Sam’s a great player for us.”
Passing on Fields and Jones are the type of decisions that will either get Rhule fired, or a second contract in a couple years.
• The Panthers’ NFC South overhaul began when David Tepper became the new owner in Carolina and fired Ron Rivera. He was replaced with Rhule. Last year he fired G.M. Marty Hurney and replaced him with Scott Fitterer last January. This week Fitterer made his first major hire, adding former Panthers first-round pick Dan Morgan to serve as assistant G.M. Morgan’s front office climb began in Seattle in 2010. Then he later became Buffalo’s director of player personnel before joining Carolina.
Carolina also named hired Cole Spencer as their college scouting director this week. Spencer began working for the Washington Football Team in 2010 and was named national scout two years ago.
• In other NFC South news, Horn, the Panthers’ first-round pick out of South Carolina, announced he will wear No. 8 in honor of one of his heroes, the late Kobe Bryant.
• Who replaces Drew Brees in New Orleans? The odds-on favorite to start at quarterback for the Saints is Jameis Winston. But he and Taysom Hill will battle in the offseason, training camp and preseason to succeed Drew Brees.
Saint head coach Sean Payton was a guest on The Rich Eisen Show and talked about what he specifically will be looking for to lead his football team in 2021 – and how the roles for each might be depending on who becomes the starter.
“I think the furthest we went with that would’ve been when everyone was healthy and Taysom was playing I’ll call it maybe eight to 10 plays at quarterback — I would never discount that,” Payton said. “But I would say this, [Hill] knows and so does Jameis that we’re looking to find a guy that’s going to lead our team this year. And that doesn’t mean the other guy is not going to have a role. But certainly, it varies. If Jameis is starting, obviously Taysom has a role that expands not only just offensively, but on special teams. And if it’s the other way around, it’s probably a little bit more limited just relative to what Jameis would do.”
Saints HC Sean Payton – Photo by: USA Today
• Payton also confirmedthe pre-draft rumors that the Saints were looking to trade up. They wanted two specific players, one who went to an NFC South rival.
“It was pretty simple. There were a couple players that we’d move up for, but for us we have a ‘must’ at corner,” Payton said. “So we had two corners graded — both [Jaycee] Horn and [Patrick] Surtain — with real high grades. And very quickly, early in the week, it’s pretty common for teams to say, ‘Hey, we have an interest.’ Everyone’s basically open for business.
“But ultimately, there wasn’t a team wanting to move out of the first 10 picks. And so, I think that lasted all of a half an hour maybe, the morning of reaching out to these teams. And the cost would’ve been, if we found a trade partner, too high. So at that point, our feeling was, it’s going to come to us at 28 so let’s make sure we have our cloud of players ready. And that’s exactly what happened.”
New Orleans ended up drafting defensive end Payton Turner at No. 28 overall then in the third round added Stanford CB Paulson Adebo.
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
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