Hitting the NFC South links

METAIRIE, La. -- As we wait for the New Orleans Saints to hold a late-afternoon practice, let’s take a run through the NFC South headlines.

D. Orlando Ledbetter reports that Garrett Reynolds has a commanding lead in the battle for the starting job at right guard. That’s the position that came open when Harvey Dahl left for St. Louis via free agency. This report echoes everything I heard when I was in Flowery Branch last week. The Falcons are very happy with what they’ve seen of Reynolds so far. With second-year pro Mike Johnson missing time with a concussion, Reynolds appears to have the job pretty much wrapped up.

There were high hopes for defensive tackle Ron Edwards when he signed with the Carolina Panthers as a free agent. He was supposed to be an immediate starter and an instant upgrade over anything else the Panthers have had at defensive tackle the past few seasons. But a torn right triceps muscle has put a damper on all that. Edwards had surgery on the arm and it’s unclear if he’ll be able to play at all this season.

Mike Triplett reports that the Saints have made it clear that free-agent fullback Heath Evans won’t be returning. They’re planning to replace him with Korey Hall.

Anwar S. Richardson writes that Tampa Bay backup quarterback Josh Johnson will use the preseason as an audition. Johnson can become an unrestricted free agent next season. As long as Josh Freeman is around, Johnson doesn’t really have a shot at playing time in Tampa Bay, but he’s talented enough to attract attention from other teams in the future. He just needs to put together some strong game film while he has the chance in the preseason.

Carolina owner Jerry Richardson, who is getting very chatty after years of staying pretty quiet, has a nickname for quarterback Jimmy Clausen. It’s “Doughboy’’ and that’s a shot at the quarterback’s physique. Richardson also said Steve Smith is getting near the end of his career and hopes the receiver ends on the best possible route.