NFC South mailbag

Marc in Durham, N.C., writes: What happened to Jermaine Phillips? He was a legit safety and I think he would be better than Sean Jones. Why have they not thought about putting him back there with Tanard Jackson?

Pat Yasinskas: I get a lot of questions on Phillips from Tampa Bay fans, and, strangely, many of them think he still is on the roster. That’s not the case. Phillips, who the Bucs began switching from safety to linebacker before last season, wound up moving back to safety. But he appeared in only two games before suffering a season-ending injury. The Bucs elected not to bring him back after the 2009 season. Phillips has not been signed by any other team. I don’t know the exact reason why, but his age (31), health and a domestic incident in January all could be factors. Given the league’s recent history of suspending players that violate the conduct code, teams might be hesitant to sign Phillips if he’s facing a possible suspension.

Joshua in Charlotte, N.C., writes: Good work for your rankings of the different positions. You've included a lot more players than I expected, including backups. My biggest complaint is putting both New Orleans corners at the top of the list. I know they had injury issues last year so they're not entirely to blame, but New Orleans was ranked towards the bottom of the league in pass defense - despite playing on an aggressive defense against one-dimensional offenses that had to pass to keep up with New Orleans’ offense. While I don't think Chris Gamble deserves to be at the top of the list, I'd move him up a notch to fourth and drop Tracy Porter to fifth. You mentioned sacks being an issue, but New Orleans had more sacks last year and performed worse than Carolina. Even with Julius Peppers, Carolina was in the bottom third in sacks and still fourth in pass defense. Gamble is a stud and deserves better.

Pat Yasinskas: Your points are taken, and everyone is entitled to an opinion. One of the purposes of this blog is to generate conversation, and judging by the number of comments on the cornerbacks post, we’re accomplishing that. My opinion, based largely on talking to coaches, front-office people and players is Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter clearly are the best two cornerbacks in the NFC South at the moment. Look at what the New Orleans defense did in the games when Porter and Greer were healthy. They were healthy early on and they were a huge part of the reason Darren Sharper was allowed to play center field and produce so many early interceptions. Sharper’s numbers dropped when they went out. Also, looking at where New Orleans ranked on pass defense (based on yards allowed) isn’t a fair way to judge Porter and Greer. A lot of those yards came when they were out. Even when they were in the lineup, a lot of teams were throwing constantly to keep up with the New Orleans offense, so the yardage totals were high. Bottom line: When healthy, Greer and Porter are a dynamic duo. They were healthy enough last season for the Saints to win the Super Bowl. As far as Gamble, I have the utmost respect for him and think he’s been a very good cornerback for a long time. Putting him at No. 5 was not a knock at Gamble at all. I debated going as high as No. 3 with him, but, projecting a little bit, and thinking about supporting casts, I also put Aqib Talib and Dunta Robinson in front of him.

Jeff in Tampa writes: Do the owners plan on expanding the roster and game-day player limits if they go to an 18-game schedule - say 60 man roster and 54-man game-day roster? This way starters will never be on special teams, and some much needed depth on game day will be available for the long grind?

Pat Yasinskas: Jeff, why don’t you just call Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay directly and ask him? Rich, who is co-chairman of the NFL’s competition committee, and I were just talking about you when I was at Falcons’ camp a few weeks ago, and he remembers you fondly. Time to let the rest of you in on the back story here. Jeff is Jeff Bender, and he was supposed to be the starting quarterback at Tampa’s Jesuit High back in 1976. But McKay’s father, John, just got hired to take over the expansion Buccaneers and Rich enrolled at Jesuit for his senior year and became the quarterback under legendary coach Bill Minahan. Bender dutifully served as the backup that season and went on to have two pretty good years as the starter. Anyway, Jeff, I think it’s likely an 18-game regular season would come with expanded rosters, expanded practice squads and probably some different rules on how the injured-reserve list is treated. As it stands now, if a player goes on injured reserve, he’s done for the season. In an expanded format, I think we could see something more like what Major League Baseball does and players would be allowed to return after a specified period.

Michael in St. Petersburg, Fla., writes: There is constant talk of receiver competition with the Bucs and trade talks. With Minnesota hurting a receiver could we send one there for a late-round pick?

Pat Yasinskas: Minnesota traded cornerback Benny Sapp to Miami for receiver Greg Camarillo on Wednesday. For the Bucs, Mike Williams, Sammie Stroughter, Arrelious Benn and Reggie Brown are pretty much guaranteed roster spots, and there’s no way the Bucs are shopping any of them. That basically leaves Michael Clayton or Maurice Stovall. If the Bucs could swing a draft pick (and I mean any draft pick) for either of those two guys, Mark Dominik instantly gets my vote for NFL Executive of the Year.