Hitting the NFC South hot spots

Time for a plunge into the NFC South mailbag

Bobby in Burlington, N.C., wrote to say he loved Cam Newton’s comments at Steve Smith’s football camp and wonders if those two would make a good tandem and if Smith would be a good mentor for Newton.

Pat Yasinskas: Definitely a smart move by Newton to make it clear he wants Smith back. If that happens, Newton has an elite receiver to throw to and that’s a positive. But let’s not go projecting Smith into the role of mentor, a role he’s never embraced. He didn’t exactly help Jimmy Clausen along, and he was never known as a mentor when Carolina had young receivers like Keary Colbert, Drew Carter and Dwayne Jarrett. Smith is very good at going out and catching passes, and he’s always prepared himself well to do that. If Smith decides he wants to stay in Carolina, then Newton will have an excellent target to throw to.

Daniel in Jamestown, N.Y., wrote to ask if it’s na├»ve to think Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman can throw so few interceptions every season.

Pat Yasinskas: Freeman threw just six interceptions last season, which is a very low figure. Obviously, Tampa Bay had a very young offense, and as the wide receivers mature there might be temptation to take more chances and go deep more often. That could lead to more interceptions. But Freeman is a perfectionist, and I doubt he’s ever going to be a guy to throw a lot of interceptions. Look back at this story where I talked to Anton Clarkson, Freeman’s private quarterback coach. Clarkson said one of Freeman’s goals is to go through a season without throwing an interception. That’s probably impossible. But if you use that as your goal and come somewhere close, you should be in good shape.

Chris in Augusta, Ga., asks if being exciting to watch helps Drew Brees’ case for the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

Pat Yasinskas: Sure. Let’s be honest. Fans love to watch teams that throw the ball a lot and score a lot of points. So does the media. Brees and the Saints have been entertaining to watch since he got there. He’s brought them national attention and raised the franchise’s profile, and those kinds of things will help him when it’s time to vote on his Hall of Fame candidacy.

Adam in West Virginia asks if Matt Ryan doesn’t stretch the field enough because he’s not an elite quarterback or because he’s the victim of conservative play calling.

Pat Yasinskas: I think Ryan already is an elite quarterback or, at the very least, will become one soon. I believe the Falcons haven’t really let him maximize his talents. I think that’s about to change. I think the coaching staff realizes it’s time to put more on Ryan’s shoulders. That’s part of the reason they went out and got Julio Jones. Last year, Roddy White was Atlanta’s only real downfield threat. Defenses knew that and gave White lots of attention. The other receivers couldn’t make big plays, and Ryan frequently was left to throw short passes to tight end Tony Gonzalez. I think the arrival of Jones and a conscious effort by the coaching staff will lead to more big plays from Ryan.