CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Ryan Kalil couldn't help but crack a joke when Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton arrived for Monday's practice wearing a new oversized flak jacket.

"I told him in the event of a water landing it could be used as a flotation device," the Pro Bowl center and team's resident comedian said. "He didn't think that was funny, though."

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaCarolina QB Cam Newton has earned admiration from his teammates for his toughness.
All jokes aside, Newton showed no obvious limitations from the fractured ribs suffered in an August 22 exhibition at New England.

He threw, according to head coach Ron Rivera and teammates, well enough that there are few if any concerns for how effective he will be in Sunday's opener at Tampa Bay. He actually threw more than anybody expected.

There seemingly are few concerns about anything surrounding Newton these days as his teammates made him a team captain for the second straight year.

It made headlines a year ago when Newton was bestowed that honor for the first time in his three seasons. After consecutive losing seasons -- 6-10 and 7-9 -- there had been questions about his ability to lead.

Those ended after the first pick of the 2011 draft led Carolina to a 12-4 record and the NFC South title. Newton continued to show his leadership during the offseason the way he stayed around the team while recovering from surgery on his left ankle.

That he's playing through whatever soreness remains from the rib injury without complaint is no more surprising than him being named captain.

"Cam's a tough guy," said tight end Greg Olsen, named a captain along with Newton, Kalil, defensive end Charles Johnson and linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. "He's a big, strong dude. If there's one thing the team knows, if there is any way for him to be out there and play at a high level he will.

"So there's not a lot of concern for that guy for the rest of the team. He'll be out there. He'll be fine."

Newton returned to practice Monday for the first time since New England linebacker Jamie Collins stepped on his back at the end of a 7-yard scramble. He reassured his teammates he was there for them, slapping the hands of every player in the huddle before taking his first snap.

"Cam, he's a fighter, he's a leader," left tackle Byron Bell said. "Ain't nothing going to hold that guy back. He looked good out there throwing the ball, calling the plays like he never lost a step. We've just got to keep him upright and we should be fine."

That will be key. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Newton has been sacked, hit while throwing or hit while carrying the ball 467 times during his first three seasons. That's more than double the total for any other quarterback, with Houston's Ryan Fitzpatrick next closest at 230.

That Newton takes those hits and doesn't complain, that he doesn't plan to change his style and slide instead of diving head first for every yard he can get, is another reason he's a captain.

"For me, a leader is somebody who leads by example," Kalil said. "Since the day he's gotten here he's done a good job in his preparation and how important it is. We give him a hard time about his pouting from time to time, but that's a reflection of how important it is to him.

"And even then he's the best self critic of himself. His self evaluation is one of the best I've been around.

"Obviously, the success came last year. But for me, he's been that guy since Day 1 and he's proven it in how he's played and how he's grown as a player and a leader."

He gets no argument from Rivera. Asked if his quarterback is more convincing as a leader now than a year ago, he deadpanned, "He's convincing, period."
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will open their regular season Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, but it remains to be seen if offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford will be calling the plays.

Tedford is recovering from an unspecified medical procedure a week ago. Coach Lovie Smith said Monday that Tedford’s status remains up in the air.

"He’s getting better," Smith said. "He stopped through this weekend. We’re taking our time with him. He’s getting better each day. When he’ll be back here full-time, I don’t know. When he’ll be available full-time, whether he’ll be available for the game this week and all those questions, we don’t have answered right now. He’s getting better and we’ll see how all that plays out."

Smith would not say who will call the plays if Tedford is unavailable Sunday.

"In the meantime, the rest of our offensive staff will pick up for Jeff, similar to how we did it last week, with all of the guys really pitching in," Smith said.
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers elected captains Monday and, unlike last year, there was no controversy.

McCown
Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David were selected the defensive captains and Michael Koenen will represent special teams. The offensive captains are Vincent Jackson and Josh McCown.

The significant news there is that McCown is a captain. The quarterback almost always should be a captain.

But that wasn’t the case for the Bucs last year. As part of the soap opera that was the start of last season, Josh Freeman was not elected as a captain. That led to speculation that former coach Greg Schiano had rigged the voting to prevent Freeman from being a captain. Only a few weeks later, Freeman was benched and eventually released.

With McCown as a captain, there’s a much healthier situation for the Bucs than a year ago at this time.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers continue to explore options at wide receiver, working out Stephen Hill and Kadron Boone on Monday.

Coach Ron Rivera said neither were expected to be signed on Monday, but didn't rule out that happening in the future.

Hill, a second-round pick by the New York Jets in 2012, was released on Saturday. The former Georgia Tech star has 45 career catches for 594 yards and four touchdowns.

Boone was released by the Eagles after being signed as an undrafted rookie out of LSU.

The Panthers kept five receivers -- Kelvin Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant, Brenton Bersin and Philly Brown -- on their 53-man roster after losing their top four from last season.

Brown made the roster as a receiver/kick returner, but his tendency to drop the ball has to be concerning despite the confidence the staff has shown in him.

Rivera said Carolina will continue to look at all positions where the team might get an upgrade.

"You gotta look at guys and see how they fit you and see if there is potential there," he said. "We have a ready list, guys we want to sign in case we get into an emergency situation."
TAMPA, Fla. – In last year’s meetings with the Carolina Panthers, there were times when Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was tripleteamed.

McCoy said Monday that he’d welcome a similar scenario when the Bucs host the Panthers in Sunday’s regular-season opener.

McCoy
McCoy
“I don’t care,’’ McCoy said. “It is what it is. Buffalo tried the same thing and you saw what happened. If they want to try it, they can go ahead. I’m not trying to play for myself. I play to get tripleteamed. I play so I make my teammates better. That’s one thing [Hall of Famer Warren Sapp] always talks about -- ‘Are you making the people around you better?’ That’s one thing he did. That’s one thing I’m working for. I want everybody around me to be great. It’s not about me. It’s about everybody around me.’’

The Bucs upgraded around McCoy in the offseason. They signed defensive end Michael Johnson and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald as free agents. But McCoy sees another returning starter as being crucial to the defensive line.

“I think [defensive end] Adrian Clayborn is going to be the key for us up front,’’ McCoy said. “Everybody wants to say it’s Gerald, it’s about the under tackle. No. He has to make a transition from the right to the left and people are not expecting that to be a positive transition, going from his best side to a side he has to learn over a couple months. I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people. If he can get going, it’s going to change everything else.’’
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The tone of Atlanta Falcons strong safety William Moore's voice lowered a notch as he recalled last year's second meeting with rival New Orleans, a game won 17-13 by the Saints.

During that contest, Moore found himself matched with Saints game-changing tight end Jimmy Graham near the sideline. Graham ran his route outside then quickly broke back inside to get down the field for a 44-yard touchdown reception from Drew Brees.

"When you become too physical on a play that they run all game, they wait for that right moment for you to be physical again and they give you the double move,'' Moore said Monday. "It's called game-planning.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Graham
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsSaints tight end Jimmy Graham had a pair of scores in two games last season against Atlanta.
"For me individually, I had nightmares about that play. I wish I could take it back. But, you know, as a player, if you want to become elite, you've got to be able to have a short-term memory. I learned from that play and I got better off that play.''

Collectively, the Falcons have to find a way to be better at defending arguably the best tight end in the game as the Saints come to town Sunday. Graham had five catches for 100 yards and a touchdown in last year's game at the Georgia Dome. In New Orleans' two wins against Atlanta last season, Graham had nine catches for 145 yards and two scores. He has 500 career receiving yards and seven touchdowns against the Falcons through four NFL seasons.

The 6-foot-7, 265-pound Graham, a former basketball player in college, presents matchup nightmares because of his size, speed and leaping ability.

"It comes down to executing your play and the stuff you've got going on,'' Moore said of containing Graham. "You can't too much worry about Jimmy Graham. He's explosive. He does things other tight ends don't do. But at the same time, you worry about what you've got to do. Your technique should allow you to put you over an edge over what he's got going, if you execute.''

It will be interesting to see what type of coverages defensive coordinator Mike Nolan utilizes against Graham, particularly with having to contend with talented receivers such as Marques Colston, Kenny Stills and rookie Brandin Cooks. No one on the Falcons roster is truly capable of matching up with Graham, one on one, although promising rookie linebacker Prince Shembo could be an intriguing option for that role in time.

Cornerback Desmond Trufant didn't shy away from going head to head with Graham.

"Just how they line up, I'm definitely going to encounter him,'' Trufant said. "I'm going to just be physical, just like any other matchup. I'm going to believe in what I'm doing and have confidence to go compete.

"I don't put nobody on a serious pedestal like that. Everybody breathes the same air. We all compete. He's a great player. We just have to bring it to him, pretty much.''

One aspect all the Falcons defenders have to be conscious of when it comes to defending Graham is the league's emphasis on defensive holding and illegal contact.

"You can't think about it too much because then it will slow you down and you'll end up giving up a big play,'' Trufant said. "Obviously, you're aware of it. But we'll see. ... We play the game. We can't focus on how they're calling it too much.''
TAMPA, Fla. – The new kicker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is a believer -- in himself.

Murray
While just about everyone assumed incumbent Connor Barth would keep his job, Patrick Murray had a different vision.

"I came in here and I believed I was going to be the starter," Murray said. "I believe if you come in thinking a different way it’s just not going to happen. Credit to Connor. He pushed me every single day. He’s a great kicker and I know he’s going to land somewhere really soon."

But it’s Murray, who came into the league as an undrafted free agent, that ended up winning Tampa Bay’s kicking job. Barth didn’t have a bad preseason, but Murray had an excellent one.

"The fact that I came in from day one that I was going to win the job and nobody was going to beat me no matter what they threw at me," Murray said. "Coach [Lovie Smith] put me in some difficult situations and I excelled at them and, thankfully, I’m a part of this organization."

Murray said his positive attitude and work ethic come from his father, Aidan.

"To be a kicker in this league, you have to have a mental edge," Murray said. "You have to be mentally tough and that comes from my father. He’s a hard-working man from Northern Ireland. We grew up pretty tough ourselves. He wasn’t easy on us, that’s for sure. That helps and it’s going to help me throughout my career."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was back throwing on Monday, his first participation in a full practice since suffering fractured ribs during an Aug. 22 exhibition game at New England.

Newton
Newton
Newton said last Wednesday he had no doubt he would start in Sunday's opener at Tampa Bay, and nothing he did early in practice would dispute that.

The first pick of the 2011 draft, who hasn't missed a start at Carolina, showed no limitation in his throwing motion. He ran between drills, something he didn't do all of last week, and had a full range of motion during stretching.

Newton was wearing a larger flak jacket than the one he was wearing when New England linebacker Jamie Collins stepped on the back of Carolina's franchise quarterback at the end of a 7-yard run to cause the fracture.

He did not appear hindered by that.

Also back at practice after sitting out the exhibition finale at Pittsburgh were defensive ends Charles Johnson (hamstring) and Greg Hardy, (shoulder) and right guard Trai Turner (groin).

Turner started the first two preseason games before suffering the injury. The team released Chris Scott, who started the last two preseason games, on Saturday.

Either Turner or Fernando Velasco, signed in July, is expected to start against Tampa.

Backup quarterback Derek Anderson, who suffered a bruised hand against the Steelers, showed no ill effects from the injury.

Saints announce practice squad

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The New Orleans Saints announced their 10-member practice squad Monday. They signed safety Pierre Warren, cornerbacks Trevin Wade and Terrence Frederick, linebacker Todd Davis, defensive tackle Lawrence Virgil, receivers Brandon Coleman and Seantavius Jones, tight end Nic Jacobs, offensive tackle Tavon Rooks and guard Antoine McClain.

Of that group, McClain is the only one who wasn’t with the Saints in training camp. The 6-foot-5, 336-pounder was released by the Buffalo Bills over the weekend. He also spent time with the Baltimore Ravens and Oakland Raiders after joining the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Clemson in 2012.

The Saints are expected to hold a bonus practice Monday before returning to their usual weekly routine, with players off on Tuesday. Their first media access and injury report will be Wednesday.
Come Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons' coaching staff will get a true measure of the offseason upgrades up front on both sides of the ball.

Speaking strictly from an offensive perspective, offensive line coach Mike Tice certainly doesn't expect his guys to back down against the NFC South favorite New Orleans Saints. In other words, you won't see a repeat of last season's Week 1 matchup, when a sliding Matt Ryan was hit by Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro without any of the Falcons' linemen really getting in Vaccaro's face afterward.

Asamoah
Holmes
Evidence of the renewed toughness was displayed in the third preseason game against Tennessee, when a number of linemen -- most notably center Joe Hawley and tackles Lamar Holmes and Ryan Schraeder -- ran to Ryan's defense after Ryan took a finger to the face mask during a confrontation with Titans linebacker Zach Brown.

"The one thing they won't be, they won't be punked over by anybody," Tice said of his line. "That's encouraging."

Whether or not the offensive line keeps Ryan upright is another story. Last season, the Falcons quarterback was sacked eight times and was hit 16 times in two losses to the Saints. For the season, Ryan was pressured on a league-high 204 of his dropbacks, contributing to him being sacked a career-high 44 times.

This preseason, Ryan was sacked twice while playing 79 snaps behind a rebuilt offensive line that now includes rookie first-round pick Jake Matthews at left tackle and veteran Jon Asamoah at right guard to go with holdovers Hawley, Holmes and left guard Justin Blalock.

Although the Falcons still have significant strides to make with their run blocking, Tice was extremely pleased with the pass protection during the preseason.

"I'd lose a lot of sleep if we were getting our ass kicked in pass protection, but we're not," Tice said. "We're not going to be a run-first team, so we'll get the runs cleaned up. We've just got to keep protecting that quarterback."

The Saints will pose quite a challenge for Matthews and Holmes off the edges with Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette, a duo that combined for 24.5 sacks last season. But what really hurt the Falcons in the last meeting between the teams was the inside pressure from Akiem Hicks, who destroyed then-Falcons right guard Garrett Reynolds.

Hicks won't be able to push around Asamoah, unless a minor groin injury resurfaces and affects Asamoah's play. The backup at right guard is Gabe Carimi, who had a solid preseason before suffering an ankle injury but appears to be fully recovered now.

Tice gave his general thoughts on the challenge posed by the Saints' front.

"I can tell you this," Tice started, "I know all their players are pretty good."

Who's returning for the Bucs?

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TAMPA, Fla. – When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers left Solomon Patton off their 53-man roster, they seemingly left the kickoff and punt-return jobs wide open.

Patton handled the duties through much of the preseason and had fared pretty well. The common assumption was that Patton would be returning punts and kickoffs in the regular season.

Patton now is stashed on the practice squad. But the Bucs didn’t leave him off the 53-man roster without a plan in place. It just might be a little difficult to see that plan because no one else stood out on returns in camp or the preseason.

But it appears as if the Bucs are ready to use backup running back Bobby Rainey as their punt returner. Rainey caught some punts in the preseason and really is the only option on the current roster.

Rainey also could end up handling kickoff returns. But there at least are some other options there. Backup running back Mike James and reserve receiver Chris Owusu worked as kickoff returners in training camp and could be options.
A closer look at the 53-man roster for the Carolina Panthers as they prepare for Sunday's opener at Tampa Bay:

Offense

Quarterbacks (3) -- Cam Newton, Derek Anderson, Joe Webb
  • Newton's offseason ankle surgery opened the door for Webb to join the team and Newton's fractured rib two weeks ago made it a necessity to keep Webb on the roster. Don't get me wrong, Webb played well enough in the preseason to earn a spot. But if Newton were perfectly healthy, the former UAB quarterback wouldn't be here.
Running backs (4) -- DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert, Fozzy Whittaker
  • Whittaker is the biggest surprise in that he wasn't on the roster when training camp opened. But he led the team in rushing during the preseason and gives the team another punishing runner who sets the tone for this ball-control offense.
Wide Receivers (5) --Kelvin Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant, Brenton Bersin, Philly Jones
  • There were major questions about who Newton would throw to after Steve Smith was released in March and Carolina's next three wide receivers signed with other teams. Benjamin, the team's first-round draft pick out of Florida State, answered many of those questions with a strong preseason. Bersin wasn't a player many expect to be here in March over Tavarres King and Marvin McNutt, but he's proven to be a solid route runner and receiver. Jones made the team primarily because of his kick-return skills. Don't be surprised to see Carolina add another player here.
Tight ends (4) -- Greg Olsen, Ed Dickson, Brandon Williams, Richie Brockel
  • The second-deepest position on the team behind the defensive line. The decision to reach an injury settlement with Mike McNeil had to be tough because he was signed to a two-year deal in free agency to be the blocking tight end. The emergence of Williams made him expendable.
Offensive linemen (10) -- Ryan Kalil, Byron Bell, Nate Chandler, Amini Silatolu, Trai Turner, Garry Williams, Fernando Velasco, Brian Folkerts, Andrew Norwell, David Foucault
  • The decision to cut guard Chris Scott, who had eight starts last season, was the most intriguing. But it says a lot about what the Panthers think of Norwell and the flexibility of Velasco, who can play center and guard. Keeping Foucault on the 53-man roster was probably more out of fear he wouldn't clear waivers so the team could put him on the practice squad.
Defense

Ends (5) -- Greg Hardy, Charles Johnson, Mario Addison, Kony Ealy, Wes Horton
  • Plenty of talent to go around here. That second-round draft pick Ealy is third on the depth chart says all you need to know. And when Frank Alexander returns from a four-game suspension for violating the substance abuse policy, this position will get stronger.
Tackles (4) -- Star Lotulelei, Colin Cole, Kawann Short, Dwan Edwards
  • The same foursome that helped establish Carolina as the league's second-ranked defense a year ago. That ends Hardy and Ealy can move over and play tackle as well once again gives the Panthers one of the league's best rotations up front.
Linebackers (6) -- Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Chase Blackburn, A.J. Klein, Jason Williams, Ben Jacobs
  • No real surprises here. The decision to release D.J. Smith wasn't easy, but he was re-signed to the practice squad.
Cornerbacks (5) -- Antoine Cason, Melvin White, Charles Godfrey, Josh Norman, Bene' Benwikere
  • There simply wasn't room for Josh Thomas, who began last season as one of the top four corners. The starters are set with Cason and White, and Godfrey and Benwikere sharing the nickel spot that Captain Munnerlyn had last season.
Safeties (4) -- Roman Harper, Thomas DeCoud, Colin Jones, Tre Boston
  • The Panthers showed what they thought of Boston, their fourth-round pick, by leaving him on the roster ahead of Robert Lester, even though Boston missed most of the preseason recovering from sports hernia surgery. Fortunately, a new rule allowed Carolina to put Lester on the practice squad.
Specialists (3) -- Place-kicker Graham Gano, punter Brad Nortman, deep snapper J.J. Jansen
  • There never was a doubt these three would be here.
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made a series of roster moves Sunday, including the addition of an offensive lineman and six players signed to the practice squad.

The Bucs claimed offensive lineman Garrett Gilkey off waivers from the Cleveland Browns. Gilkey appeared in six games with one start for the Browns last season. To make room for Gilkey, the Bucs waived offensive lineman Josh Allen.

The Bucs also started filling out their practice squad with some familiar faces. Tight end Cameron Brate, running back Jeff Demps, quarterback Mike Kafka, linebacker Brandon Magee, defensive tackle Matthew Masifilo and wide receiver Solomon Patton were signed to the practice squad. All six of those players were with the Bucs in the preseason.

The Bucs still have four more spots to fill on the practice squad.
The Atlanta Falcons announced the signing of eight players to the practice squad on Sunday.

The group includes rookie cornerback Ricardo Allen, a fifth-round draft pick who was unable to secure a spot on the 53-man roster. The other seven include defensive tackle Travian Robertson, offensive guard Harland Gunn, outside linebacker Jacques Smith, safety Sean Baker, offensive tackle Terren Jones, wide receiver Bernard Reedy and running back Jerome Smith.

The NFL expanded the practice-roster limit to 10 this season.

The Falcons also confirmed the addition of linebacker Nate Stupar via waivers from the Jacksonville Jaguars. Stupar replaced veteran linebacker Tim Dobbins on the 53-man roster after Dobbins was released Sunday.
Most significant move: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took a leap of faith when they released kicker Connor Barth and decided to go with Patrick Murray. Barth was a proven veteran. Murray is an unknown. But Murray had an excellent preseason to win the job. Barth didn’t look quite as sharp and didn’t seem to have as much distance as he did before missing all of last season with a torn Achilles tendon. Barth also was scheduled to make more than $3 million this season. Murray will only cost the team $420,000.

Not so fast: A lot of people were under the assumption running back Jeff Demps would make the roster because the Bucs were so infatuated with his speed. But Demps was released Saturday. The former Olympic sprinter was given every opportunity as a running back and a return man, but he never was able to make things happen in space. Still, Demps has rare speed and the Bucs likely will try to get him signed to the practice squad, where he might be able to develop into something.

What’s next: The Bucs likely aren’t done with roster moves. They’re likely to bring in some players who were released elsewhere. Depth at linebacker, safety and on the offensive line still could be priorities.

Bucs’ cuts: Released WR Solomon Patton, RB Jeff Demps, QB Mike Kafka, DT Matthew Masifilo, DT Ronald Talley, K Connor Barth, TE Cameron Brate, DE Larry English, G Jamon Meredith, DB Marc Anthony, LB Nate Askew, T Edawn Coughman, CB Kip Edwards, DE T.J. Fatinikun, CB Anthony Gaitor, LB Ka'Lial Glaud, CB Keith Lewis, LB Brandon Magee, OL Andrew Miller, FB Lonnie Pryor, DL Ronald Talley, S Major Wright and OL Jeremiah Warren.

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