Before I head out on my voyage to New Orleans later this afternoon, let’s take a dip into the NFC South mailbag. It seemed to be heavy on questions from the Carolina precinct this week and we work with what we get, although I did try to spread things around the division as much as possible.
Sean Arden in N.C. writes: Do you think the impending NFL lockout could deter Andrew Luck from turning pro? Or does his stock figure to be as high as it's going to get, and he'll come out regardless?
Pat Yasinskas: Good question because it seems like everybody’s assuming Luck automatically would come out after his junior year and I was falling into that trap. But the word I’m now hearing is that’s far from guaranteed. Luck may decide to play another year at Stanford. Not sure if that’s because of the possibility of a lockout or just that he might want to spend another year at Stanford. Now, let’s be clear that no matter what the labor situation looks like in the spring, there will be a 2011 college draft.
Haile in Durham, N.C., writes: Remember Jerry Richardson promised he would field a winning team and that starts from the top down. Now that being said, how could he justify hiring a college coach or no-name guy? [How] would that coach fair against a Sean Payton, Mike Smith, Bill Belichick or Rex Ryan? I believe he would get crushed more times than not, so doesn't Jerry Richardson have to hire a top-notch guy? Who can do what John Fox used to; outcoach other NFL coaches and come with a superior game plan?
Pat Yasinskas: I respect your points and they’re all good. But let me throw out a few points based on what I know about the Panthers and some other things around the NFL. Carolina general manager Marty Hurney, who will spearhead the coaching search along with team president Danny Morrison, firmly believes that the best NFL head coaches are first-time NFL head coaches because they bring enthusiasm and energy to the job. Now, that doesn’t mean he’s going to look for a first-time head coach just for the sake of looking for a first-time head coach. He’s going to look for a guy that’s ready for the next step. Along those same lines and also referring to your mention of “no-name’’ guys, John Fox was a no-name guy when Hurney found him and sold him to Richardson. Mike Smith was a no-name guy when he got the Atlanta job. I think the next coach of the Panthers will be someone like Fox or Smith -- a guy who is ready for the next step. One other thing, and this is just a personal opinion, but I wouldn't be ranking Rex Ryan in the same category as Bill Belichick, Sean Payton or Mike Smith. Again, that's just my opinion.
James in White Plains, N.Y., writes: With the fans not really voting for NFC South players, what is the probability that coaches or players would put Lance Moore in the Pro Bowl for being the most consistent player on the Saints’ offense?
Pat Yasinskas: Probably a long shot. I like Moore as a receiver and he can do a lot of different things. But he is somewhat overshadowed by Marques Colston. If any New Orleans receiver goes to the Pro Bowl, it will probably be Colston.
Chandler at Andrews Air Force Base writes: Do the Atlanta Falcons have a nickname for this season? If not can I suggest the name "Do Work Falcons". Let’s be honest the Falcons haven't been the flashiest team in the league. No, my team has, week by week, shown up and "done work" on every opponent they have played. Just a suggestion any feedback would be greatly appreciated!
Pat Yasinskas: Haven’t heard any new nicknames for the Falcons this year. Let’s throw it out there and see what Atlanta fans think.
Otis in Iraq, by way of Thomson, Ga., writes: I've noticed that the Falcons don't really use the screen game although we have an offensive line that seems to love to get out there and hit people. What kind of impact do you think adding screens would have on our offensive production and the defensive schemes of other teams?
Pat Yasinskas: I saw a statistic this week that said the Falcons have attempted a league-low 11 screen passes. I think the biggest reason for that is Atlanta’s personnel in the backfield. As good a running back as Michael Turner is overall, he simply isn’t very good as a receiver. The Falcons had a guy who was sort of the prototype for screens out of the backfield in Jerious Norwood, but he’s hurt and lost for the rest of the season. I don’t think Norwood will be back next season. I suspect you’ll see the Falcons draft someone to fill Norwood’s speed back role. If that guy can catch a little bit, then you might see the Falcons throw some more screens next year.
Rifath in Lithonia writes: This NFC South has become the most competitive division in the league. I just don't know why there hasn't been more coverage nationally. A great example was the Falcons/Bucs game and most of the country were watching the Cowboys/Colts. What disrespect!
Pat Yasinskas: You’re preaching to the choir. But let me tell you a little story. For much of last year, fans were saying the New Orleans Saints weren’t getting enough respect, even as they were winning their first 13 games. When they won the Super Bowl, the Saints got all sort of attention. So I guess the best way for the NFC South to get attention or respect this season is for the Falcons, Saints or Bucs to go on and win the Super Bowl.
Hunter in Winston-Salem, N.C., writes: I am heading down to Charlotte on Sunday to watch my Birds run the Panthers out of the stadium! This is my first time to Bank of America Stadium and I was wondering if you had any tips about where to hang out and/or grab some good food in or around the stadium for a 22-year-oldgrad school student?
Pat Yasinskas: I can’t give free advertising and name places. However, I think Charlotte has one of the best game-day atmospheres and night-before-a-game atmospheres in the entire NFL. The stadium is blocks away from the heart of Uptown Charlotte (which is what they call downtown Charlotte). There are all sorts of restaurants and nightspots in that area. Just wander around and you’ll find something that works for you.