Around the NFC South

I hope everyone had a great holiday weekend. Let's take a look at the top headlines from around the division.

  • Defensive end Ray Edwards has been a frequent target of criticism after signing as a free agent with the Falcons last year and didn’t have a big season. But defensive line coach Ray Hamilton defended Edwards, saying the defensive end had a knee injury last year and bigger things are expected this season.

  • Even if Edwards doesn’t step up, one writer believes fifth-round pick Jonathan Massaquoi can provide immediate help for Atlanta’s pass rush.

  • D. Orlando Ledbetter has his list of things to watch as the Falcons begin the on-field portion of their organized team activities. Whether Lofa Tatupu or Akeem Dent is working at first-team middle linebacker is one big question, and if Dunta Robinson will be covering the slot receiver when the Falcons go to their nickel package is another.

  • Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano is trying to use the Florida heat to give his team a conditioning advantage. Does that work? Rick Stroud runs through how different coaches in franchise history have approached the heat. Some have tried to work around it and some have practiced through the worst parts of the day. The results have been mixed.

  • Unknown Rennie Curran has been working with the first team at weak-side linebacker so far for Tampa Bay. That’s not going to last. As soon as rookie Lavonte David gets settled in, he’ll be the starter.

  • Haruki Nakamura spent the last four seasons backing up Ed Reed in Baltimore. There are no future Hall of Famers at safety for the Panthers, so Nakamura has a chance to compete for a starting job.

  • San Francisco linebacker Patrick Willis became the latest to chime in on quarterback Alex Smith’s claim that wins are more important than statistics. Smith claimed that Carolina quarterback Cam Newton’s stats were inflated because the Panthers often were trailing last season. That prompted Carolina linebacker Jon Beason to jump to Newton’s defense. Willis now has defended Smith, saying wins are more important than passing numbers.