NFC South Saturday mailbag

There was lots of good stuff, from a lot of different directions, when I looked at the mailbag today. So let’s get to it.

Allan in Florida writes: I read your article regarding the no-shows at Bucs' games. The economy has nothing to do with it. Look at the Saints. They sell out and have a waiting list.

Pat Yasinskas: I respectfully beg to differ on that one. The economy isn’t the entire issue in Tampa Bay because there are a lot of different factors at work. But the economy absolutely is a factor in the lack of attendance. I live in Tampa and I can tell you the economy has been hit harder here than a lot of places. I’ve got a lot of friends out of work, I see foreclosure signs on houses in my neighborhood and I know a lot of people who used to have season tickets, but gave them up because they no longer could afford them. Is the economy tough in other places? Absolutely. It’s interesting that you point to New Orleans and that’s a valid comparison that demonstrates some strong differences. Louisiana hasn’t been immune to the economic downturn and that state has suffered several natural and unnatural disasters. But, yes, the Saints sell out and have a long waiting list. I think that’s largely because the Saints simply are a way of life in New Orleans. Before the Hornets arrived, the Saints were all New Orleans had. The Bucs certainly have their share of die-hard fans, but I don’t think they are a way of life the way the Saints are in New Orleans.

Nate in Huntsville, Ala.,writes: Wondering your thoughts on the Saints and Al Woods? Has any more information come out to why he was released? Not saying Al Woods will turn out to be a Pro Bowl caliber player but you'd think a guy you traded up to get in the fourth round would make the team. Granted, the Bucs are hurting on the D-line right now but how can you go from not being able to make a team to starting on another team?

Pat Yasinskas: The story on Woods in New Orleans, as I’ve heard it, goes like this. The Saints drafted the defensive tackle with high hopes. They didn’t view him as an instant starter, but thought he could play in their rotation and maybe develop into a starter down the road. Woods, in his eagerness to be a good player, decided he wanted to come to camp and show some quickness, so he spent much of the early summer trying to shed weight. Problem was, when he got to camp, the Saints saw a guy who was too light and was getting shoved around. That’s why they let him go and they're also in a position where they are trying to defend a Super Bowl title and don't have the time to carry a guy who they don't think can help them for several years. The Bucs are in a completely different position, where they're going through a youth movement and building for the long term. Woods has put some of that weight back on and he’s making a contribution in Tampa Bay. Like you said, I don’t think he’s going to be an elite player, but he’s shown enough that the Bucs were willing to cut veteran Ryan Sims healthy. With Brian Price returning from injury next year, Gerald McCoy emerging as a force, Woods and Roy Miller could help give the Bucs a very nice rotation at defensive tackle for the future.

Bobby in Burlington, N.C., writes: Your comments on the Panthers are dead on! Thought it was hilarious you listed Chris Gamble on injury report for fractured relationship!

Pat Yasinskas: Thanks. Injury reports aren’t the most exciting thing to write about and neither are the Panthers these days. So I try to jazz it up with humor or sarcasm whenever I can and it fit in the Gamble situation. Fact is, this is a guy who was a first-round pick and was a good player for a long time. But he clearly has fallen out of favor with coach John Fox (and probably lots of others in the organization) by walking out of a practice.

Joseph in Athens, Ga., writes: I don't know how many people have realized this but I think it is pretty crazy that there are four starting and very good quarterbacks in the NFL that were all drafted by the Falcons. I don't know if anything like that has ever really happened before. That is 12.5 percent of the league. Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Michael Vick and Brett Favre.

Pat Yasinskas: Interesting point. We all know the Favre story in Atlanta and how that never was going to work out unless he changed his lifestyle. But it’s more interesting to think about the three more recent guys you mentioned. Had things gone a little differently, Vick or Schaub could be the starter for the Falcons right now and Ryan never would have been drafted. I salute Vick for resurrecting his career in Philadelphia, but he recently admitted he short-changed the Falcons by never really dedicating himself to the game when he was in Atlanta. Too late to change that. And too late to change the Schaub trade. He was a guy the Falcons liked, but they also had Vick at the time and decided they could get a nice trade for Schaub. It all worked out in the end. I’m not saying Ryan will have a better career than Favre or that he’s better than Vick right now. But he’s the right guy for the Falcons right now.

Karl in Valdosta, Ga., writes: Diehard Falcons fan, just read the chat, wanted to reiterate that your coverage of all the teams (well, good teams) is really balance, and I learned a lot about the Bucs this year- a good team I would have otherwise totally ignored. In fact, the mass sports media is now making the same commentary about Josh Freeman that you made months ago.

Pat Yasinskas: Thanks. I don’t pretend that I can see the future and I'm not a talent evaluator like Mel Kiper or Todd McShay. But I go with what I see and hear in the present and build opinions on that. On Freeman, I saw some very encouraging things when he got to play late last season. But the most profound moment in my assessment of Freeman came when I interviewed him at Disney’s Wide World of Sports back in February. At that point, he’d had a chance to look back at his rookie season and relax a bit. That day, I saw a completely different demeanor out of Freeman than I had in his rookie season. He was suddenly polished, mature and comfortable. I already knew the physical ability was there, but that showed me the intangibles were coming. Then, in the next few months, I started hearing the stories from the coaching staff and front office about how Freeman was at One Buc Place working almost every day during the offseason. I got the sense he was about to really take control of this team. That’s precisely what has happened.