It could have been a messy divorce based on the circumstances. Instead, Mike Tice made sure it was an amicable parting of ways with the organization that got him back in the game.

Tice, formerly the Atlanta Falcons' offensive line coach, was first told he would be blocked from pursuing other coaching opportunities this offseason. After a follow-up conversation with general manger Thomas Dimitroff, Tice was allowed out of his contract with one year remaining. Then, he signed the standard, two-year deal to hold the same position under close friend Jack Del Rio, the new coach of the Oakland Raiders.

"It was just an exciting opportunity for my wife, Diane, and I to be able to work for somebody that we knew, understood and know how he’s going to approach things," Tice said of working for Del Rio. "It was a comfort thing.

[+] EnlargeMike Tice
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneFormer Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice helped his unit succeed despite a rash of injuries.
"It was also an opportunity to get back on the West Coast. We haven’t been back on the West Coast since I left the Seahawks. I have a home in Seattle, and it’s a two-hour flight up the coast. My daughter lives in the Carson City area of Nevada, so she’s not far away. And I have a tremendous amount of friends in California."

It wasn’t so easy for Tice to leave Atlanta behind, though. In just one season with the Falcons, he earned the respect of many by orchestrating the unexpected improvement of a makeshift offensive line while losing five linemen to season-ending injuries. Tice made the most out of undrafted players James Stone and Ryan Schraeder, two regular starters at season’s end, along with veterans Jon Asamoah and Justin Blalock, and rookie first-round pick Jake Matthews.

"I was proud that through all of the adversity and through all of the line changes that these guys -- except for the last game -- improved every week and became a unit," Tice said. 'Once they started pushing as a unit, they were able to keep Matt (Ryan) clean, for the most part.

"Going into the last game, we had goal to be in the Top 10 in the least amount of sacks allowed in the league, and going into the last game, we were ranked sixth. I thought that was a great accomplishment. Unfortunately, we screwed it up in the last game and didn’t finish in the Top 10."

Maybe Tice fell short of his stated goal, but his accomplishments were why the Falcons didn’t want him to leave in the first place. He brought toughness to a unit that lacked it.

Now, he’ll be asked to take on a new challenge with the Raiders.

"I have an initial feeling on the guys," Tice said. "I think there is some talent here that we can work with. But I need to go and grade the whole season before giving a valid assessment of the group. No. 71 (Menelik Watson) and No. 66 (Gabe Jackson) look like they have the potential to be good players. The left tackle (Donald) Penn, from what I’ve seen to this point on film, played solid."

Tice is not even a week into the job, but appreciated how Del Rio allowed him to be a part of the process of interviewing other coaches. When Del Rio was the head coach in Jacksonville, Tice was the assistant head coach.

"First and foremost, Jack and I are friends and have been for a very, very long time," Tice said. 'Just to watch him operate and how he’s grown as a head coach with such professionalism, I’m very proud of him."

There appeared to be an outside chance Tice would reunite with fired Falcons coach Mike Smith in Oakland, but reports of Smith interviewing to be the Raiders defensive coordinator were not accurate. Smith is expected to take the year off from coaching.

"Mike Smith gave me an opportunity to come and work with some guys that I know and trust and respect," Tice said. "I was trying to get back in the league, and he opened doors for me that allowed me to get back. He’s a tremendously organized and passionate coach who treats everybody around with the utmost respect. And I really enjoyed working for Smitty.

"As far as the Falcons' organization, I was treated with the utmost respect and made a tremendous amount of friends in that building. My son is still in the building in the personnel department. They were very good to my family and I, and at the top of the list was allowing me to pursue this new opportunity."
The New Orleans Saints and Bountygate came up a few times during GQ’s detailed profile on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s controversial reign.

One of the most intriguing revelations in the story was that former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said he and Goodell haven’t talked much since Goodell replaced him as commissioner and that “Bountygate didn’t help.”

Tagliabue was brought in at the tail end of the NFL’s 2012 investigation into the Saints’ alleged pay-for-injury program to hear the appeals of four players who were suspended by Goodell. Tagliabue vacated all four suspensions.

Although Tagliabue strongly rebuked the Saints for wrongdoing, he found that there was no justification for such unprecedented punishments against the players -- stressing that the punishments were more for pregame “talk” than any actual misconduct on the field.

"I talked to him after I issued the bounty decision," Tagliabue told GQ. "I explained I was doing it and why. He didn't think I would vacate all the discipline. He said, 'I was surprised where you came out.'"

Tagliabue only ruled on player suspensions, so the unprecedented punishments against the organization, coaches and general manager Mickey Loomis all remained -- including a full-season suspension for coach Sean Payton.

The GQ report also quoted Houston Texans owner Bob McNair as saying that when Saints owner Tom Benson resigned from three league committees in 2013, Goodell’s pay package and his handling of Bountygate were two of the reasons -- though GQ said that Benson denied that through a spokesman.
Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen proved he deserved to be in the Pro Bowl after waiting eight years to get there.

Olsen caught a pair of touchdown passes and was the target for a potential game-winner on Sunday night at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

His first Pro Bowl catch was a 17-yard touchdown from Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck in the first quarter.

[+] EnlargeGreg Olsen
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesGreg Olsen did well in his first Pro Bowl appearance of his eight-year career, snagging two TD catches.
He added a 10-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter from New Orleans’ Drew Brees in which officials overturned their original ruling that both of his feet weren’t down in the end zone.

With less than a minute remaining, Olsen was the target of an Andy Dalton fourth-down pass near the end zone that fell short.

Olsen wasn’t on the winning team as teammate Luke Kuechly was in the 32-28 victory for Team Irvin over Team Carter. But he wasn’t complaining after catching three passes for 52 yards.

“Two touchdowns . . . the only thing that would’ve been better is win the game,” Olsen told the Charlotte Observer after the game. “But the whole week was just awesome, whether you win or lose. The whole week was amazing. It was an awesome opportunity to come out here.”

The game also was an example of why Olsen has had trouble getting noticed in the Pro Bowl voting. NFC South rival tight end Jimmy Graham of New Orleans also had two touchdown catches, including the game-winner with 3:10 remaining.

Graham is considered one of the top two tight ends in the NFL along with New England’s Rob Gronkowski. Prior to this season, Olsen also was overshadowed by NFC South tight end Tony Gonzalez, who retired after making his 14th Pro Bowl last season.

But Olsen showed there’s no doubt he has reached elite status by his performance in the game and with his season. He led the Panthers in receiving with a career-high 84 catches for 1,008 yards.

Kuechly also showed why he is one of the top linebackers in the league. In his second consecutive Pro Bowl appearance, he had seven tackles and called the defensive signals when he was on the field.

He also didn’t have any awkward moments against Olsen as he had in last year’s all-star game with teammate Mike Tolbert, who bowled past Kuechly’s side for the game-winning touchdown.

“He didn’t catch any on me, so we’re good,’’ Kuechly told the Observer, speaking of Olsen. “That’s all I was looking for. I was hoping they were going to throw one his way. I was going to try to get my hands on it. They didn’t do it. He caught two touchdowns, played well.”
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The New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons aren’t exactly “besties.” But when Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan needed a touchdown late in Sunday night’s Pro Bowl, he didn’t let the NFC South’s oldest rivalry get in his way.

On fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Ryan went with an option he’s seen work plenty of times from the other sideline. He fired a pass into Saints tight end Jimmy Graham’s breadbasket -- despite Graham having Arizona Cardinals cornerback Antonio Cromartie draped all over him.

It turned out to be the game-winning score for Team Irvin in a 32-28 victory over Team Carter.

It was the second touchdown of the night for Graham -- and it was followed by Graham’s second dunk of the night (no word yet on whether Graham will be fined for his illegal TD celebration of choice, though the NFL confirmed earlier in the day he and other players would be “subject” to the same fines as if it were a regular-season game).

Graham, who caught three passes for 30 yards overall, wasn’t the only Saints player who shined in an exhibition game that turned out better than most of New Orleans’ regular-season games this year.

Saints running back Mark Ingram also played a key role in the Team Irvin victory (named for honorary captain Michael Irvin). Ingram ran for a game-high 72 yards on 11 carries while visibly continuing to relish his first Pro Bowl experience throughout the night.

Former Saints running back Darren Sproles also came up big for the winning side with three rushes for 42 yards, six catches for 79 yards and a fumble recovery -- even though he was technically voted in as a special teamer.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees wound up on the losing end for the team captained by Cris Carter, despite throwing two touchdown passes (a 21-yarder to Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson and a 10-yarder to Carolina’s Greg Olsen) and a 2-point conversion pass to Indianapolis’ T.Y. Hilton.

Brees completed 13 of 21 passes for 163 yards. He also threw one interception -- though in Brees’ defense, it was a spectacular pick by Miami’s Brent Grimes, who ripped the ball away from Hilton in the end zone.
The Atlanta Falcons will name former assistant offensive line coach Wade Harman the team's next tight ends coach, according to multiple league sources.

Harman, who worked alongside offensive line coach Mike Tice last season, came to the Falcons in 2014 following 15 seasons as the Baltimore Ravens' tight ends coach. He is credited with helping the development of former two-time Pro Bowler Todd Heap and working with three-time Super Bowl champ Shannon Sharpe.

Harman will replace Chris Scelfo, who obviously won't be back with the Falcons. As it looks now, the Falcons will retain four assistant coaches from Mike Smith's staff under expected new head coach Dan Quinn: special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong, wide receivers coach Terry Robiskie, defensive line coach Bryan Cox and Harman.

Kyle Shanahan will be named the Falcons' new offensive coordinator, while there is a Washington Post report about one-time Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris being Quinn's defensive coordinator.

The Falcons need a makeover at the tight end position, so Harman could help with the process. The team didn't have the luxury of Tony Gonzalez last season, so tight end wasn't a position of strength. Levine Toilolo showed some improvement toward the end of the season, yet his numerous drops early on stunted his growth. Not to mention there wasn't much production from the second tight end, Bear Pascoe.

The Falcons are destined to target a pass-catching tight end either through free agency or the draft. One intriguing name is veteran Owen Daniels, who caught 48 passes for the Ravens this past season. Daniels played under Shanahan with the Houston Texans and caught a career-high 70 passes in Shanahan's offense during the 2008 season.

Toilolo, who caught 31 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns this past season, is signed through 2016. Pascoe is set to become a free agent.

The Falcons are unlikely to announce any coaching moves until Quinn, the Seattle Seahawks' defensive coordinator, is introduced as head coach following the Super Bowl.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- While most of the NFL world is focused on "Deflategate" and the Super Bowl, the Carolina Panthers are focused on building for 2015.

General manager Dave Gettleman and much of the college scouting department are in Mobile, Alabama, for the Senior Bowl. Gettleman and head coach Ron Rivera are in the process of evaluating the roster and where improvements can be made.

With that, let’s get to your questions for my Saturday mailbag:

@DNewtonESPN: Big money? Probably not. There really aren't a lot of great options on top tier left tackles in free agency, and there may be fewer when teams start to re-sign their own. I'd look for the Panthers to look more toward the second-tier guys and draft a potential future left tackle in the first couple of rounds. I'm still not ruling out re-signing Byron Bell to a low number and giving him a chance to compete for the job. No doubt he struggled this season, but to be fair it was his first season as a left tackle. There is room to grow and the coaching staff likes him. I'm not saying he is the answer, but better to have insurance in case you don't find the answer.

@DNewtonESPN: Content? No. As general manager Dave Gettleman said you never can be satisfied with the status quo. The Panthers are comfortable with Bene' Benwikere at cornerback and Tre Boston at free safety. They went 5-1 with them as the starters down the stretch. But I believe if they can find a taller and faster every-down cornerback that would allow them to move Benwikere back to the nickel spot full time they would make that move. It would only make the defense stronger. And as Gettleman admitted, Benwikere doesn't have the elite speed you look for as an every-down corner. But he does have good speed and great football instincts. I still believe cornerback is a viable option if a top one is available in the first round of the draft.

@DNewtonESPN: Yes. Mike Shula will remain the offensive coordinator. As I've said before, it would be tough to judge him during a year in which he had four new wide receivers, a rebuilt offensive line and a quarterback dealing with offseason surgery and in-season injuries. Sometimes continuity is more important than change.

@DNewtonESPN: Ron Rivera pretty much shot down the notion of a coaching change during his final news conference. Speaking specifically of the breakdowns on special teams he talked about injuries to five key special-team players this past season. He also spoke to the need for him and the staff to commit to finding players specifically for those units. The biggest need is a return specialist. The Panthers had one in Ted Ginn Jr., and then let him sign with Arizona last offseason.

@DNewtonESPN: As far as I know he's looking at talent more than age. Having said that, he's looking to upgrade the overall speed of the team and you seldom do that with older players such as Eddie Royal. The Panthers already have a player like Royal in Jerricho Cotchery. To find a real difference-maker at wide receiver to play opposite Kelvin Benjamin the best avenue likely will be the draft. It's another deep class.

@DNewtonESPN: I couldn't pass on this one. First, I have no idea. He's a big guy with big hands, so I doubt the amount of pressure in the football is an issue. But I will attempt to find out the exact number.

METAIRIE, La. -- Though it might be hard to believe with all the family drama that has erupted over the past two days, team owner Tom Benson's intent was to ensure stability and continuity for the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans franchises.

Those might seem like odd word choices, considering that Benson, 87, is now in a high-profile, high-stakes legal battle with his daughter and grandchildren, who levied scathing accusations about Benson’s mental capacity and the intentions of his wife, Gayle, in a lawsuit filed Thursday.

But "stability" and "continuity" were precisely the terms used to describe Benson's decision to transfer ownership of his vast business empire to Gayle upon his death.

Multiple sources within the two sports franchises, both on and off the record, applauded the move. Many believe the transition will be much smoother if Gayle Benson becomes owner instead of Tom Benson’s adopted daughter, Renee Benson, and grandchildren Rita Benson LeBlanc and Ryan LeBlanc.

[+] EnlargeTom Benson
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsThe decision of Tom Benson (center) to transfer ownership of the Saints and Pelicans to his wife, Gayle (left), upon his death has set off a high-stakes legal battle.
The two most important aspects of that transition are the franchises’ long-term security in New Orleans and the current power structure remaining intact, led by president Dennis Lauscha and executive vice president/general manager Mickey Loomis.

"Continuity is very important, and this plan ensures that," Benson said in a statement released by the Saints on Thursday. "We have had the same management team in place that oversees both teams for a number of years. It has proven to be successful and it works. Dennis and Mickey will continue to run the operations as they have done day-to-day for the last 10 years or so. They consult with me daily, but they will continue to have the same authority they have always had with making decisions, large and small, and this will continue even when Gayle becomes owner."

"We have nothing but [Tom Benson's] unequivocal support, and that is important. We have been a successful franchise because of it. Nothing will change with that when Mrs. Benson becomes the owner," Loomis said in a statement released Thursday morning. "That stability creates an environment so that players and coaches want to come here."

Benson had long intended to groom his granddaughter as his successor, but multiple sources indicated that Rita Benson LeBlanc never developed into the protégé he hoped she would -- with inconsistency in her attendance, accountability and interest level in team matters.

The concern with her being thrust into the position of ultimate power is more about unpredictability than anything else, according to sources.

Sources confirmed that ownership uncertainty was a concern during negotiations for Saints coach Sean Payton’s most recent contract extension, which was signed in January 2013. The NFL initially denied a clause that would allow Payton to break the contract if Loomis was ever fired, suspended or left the organization.

Gayle Benson, 67, is widely liked and respected throughout the organizations, according to sources both on and off the record. Pelicans coach Monty Williams and Saints players Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham were among those who praised her on Thursday.

So the plan to transfer ownership was met with a sigh of relief throughout the Saints and Pelicans organizations on Wednesday night, according to multiple sources -- at least until Thursday afternoon, when Benson’s family fought back with the lawsuit.

There are also legal issues involving the family trust that could make an ownership change difficult. Ideas of any sort of “smooth transition” are pretty much out the window for now as the two sides appear set for a lengthy legal battle.

What’s being contested now is why Benson was motivated to push his daughter and grandchildren out. The lawsuit alleges his declining mental capacity and the growing influence of Gayle Benson are the leading causes -- claims that Benson denied in a statement Thursday night.

The lawsuit also stresses that Gayle Benson has never owned, operated or managed a substantial business enterprise, has not received any formal training on how to do so and stated publicly that she had no interest in football, basketball or sports in general before marrying Tom Benson.

Meanwhile Rita Benson LeBlanc, 38, began working with the Saints full-time in 2001 and held the title of owner/vice chairman of the board before being fired in late December for unspecified reasons. She was listed in the team’s media guide as the second-highest ranking executive overseeing management alongside Tom Benson.

She regularly attends league owners meetings and votes along with larger ownership groups. She has chaired the NFL Employee Benefits committee, among other committees she has served on with both the NFL and NBA.

However, Benson LeBlanc was not involved with the day-to-day operations of the sports teams. Her role was more in the realm of community and marketing endeavors and public appearances, according to sources.

The Times-Picayune reported in 2012 that Benson LeBlanc was placed on an unofficial paid administrative leave by Tom Benson, which one source confirmed. Benson LeBlanc has been characterized by sources and that 2012 Times-Picayune report as smart and talented, but also unfocused and abrasive at times. Sources confirmed that TP report that she had gone through 30-plus assistants over the past decade.

Benson’s daughter and grandson were based out of Texas and rarely spent any time around the sports franchises. In fact, sources indicated that tension grew when Renee Benson began to spend more time around the franchises this past summer.

Although the lawsuit claims that the "petitioners have done nothing to provoke any of the above, unjustified actions and have sought and still seek to reconcile with" Benson, sources described Benson’s decision as one that had been brewing over recent years and months as he battled more frequent health issues -- and that the family relationships continued to worsen in recent months.

It was widely known, according to sources, that Rita Benson LeBlanc and Gayle Benson did not get along -- a relationship that never improved and ultimately forced Tom Benson to make a decision between the two as he evaluated the future of the franchises.

The details of the lawsuit filed against Benson on Thursday also paint the picture of a gradual but intense deterioration of the family relationships.

“This is something I have thought about and prayed about for a while now,” Benson said in his statement, adding that his recent knee surgeries have “given me time to reflect on a number of issues that we will face in the distant future.”
IRVING, Texas -- Throughout the years, we have heard countless teammates rave about Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten.

Witten
Graham
This past season, we heard Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray talk about Witten’s impact on them as players and men. We heard Tony Romo say Witten might be the best Cowboy of all time. Jason Garrett called Witten the best tight end in football for the past decade.

On Thursday, I pulled aside New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham after a Pro Bowl practice and asked about Witten.

During the practice, Witten, who was added to the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement for Denver’s Julius Thomas, took the first-team snaps over Graham. I wondered if it was Graham deferring to a tight end who will be playing in his 10th Pro Bowl.

"The first thing I told him is, you know, he’s my idol and he always has been," Graham said. "I try to emulate everything he does on the field and off the field. Not only does he do everything right on the field, and he’s been consistent for the past forever, but he does so much in his community. So I’ve tried to emulate myself just like him as a man, just because of the type of individual he is."

Graham and Witten have played in Pro Bowls before. They share the same agent, Jimmy Sexton. How they play tight end is different. Graham is more athletic, almost a wide receiver playing the position. Witten is the more traditional tight end.

"He is what I know I will be or what I try to be each and every year," Graham said. "And I strive to be the type of tight end that he is."
TAMPA, Fla. – Since Chip Kelly recruited Marcus Mariota to Oregon, it’s only natural to connect the coach of the Philadelphia Eagles to the quarterback.

Rumors already are flying that Kelly is prepared to trade up in the draft to get Mariota. He might have to move all the way to No. 1 and the Bucs hold that pick. But I wouldn’t go predicting a trade between Philadelphia and Tampa Bay just yet.

Mariota
It’s easy to talk about a potential trade, but it would be extremely difficult to pull off. Let’s take a look at the draft trade value chart.

The No. 1 overall pick is worth 3,000 points. Philadelphia currently holds the No. 20 pick, which is worth 850 points. You can add up the value of all of Philadelphia’s picks in this draft and it still wouldn’t come close to 3,000.

The Eagles would have to make multiple moves to even get into an area where they could tempt the Bucs. Philadelphia probably would have to get at least one more first-round pick in this year’s draft and include next year’s first-round choice. Veteran players also could be part of the deal, but they usually don’t carry a lot of weight in these situations.

The Bucs would be wise to listen to any and all offers because they could get a huge bounty for the top pick. But, no matter how much Kelly wants Mariota, he might not have the resources to make it happen.
MOBILE, Ala. – The New Orleans Saints remain in a holding pattern while the legal process and NFL investigative process continue regarding outside linebacker Junior Galette, who was arrested on Jan. 5 and booked on a misdemeanor charge of simple battery, including domestic violence.

Galette
General manager Mickey Loomis, however, stressed again Wednesday that it’s a matter the Saints are taking very seriously.

“I’m concerned about it, obviously. We should all be concerned about it. That’s a serious matter,” said Loomis, who said he has not spoken personally to Galette – though he noted two weeks ago that the team’s security director had been in contact.

“We’re going to wait until the legal system runs its course, and the league obviously will do their investigation,” said Loomis, who said he did not know if the league had begun its independent investigation – which is now a part of the NFL’s revamped personal conduct policy.

As Loomis said previously, there is no urgency for the Saints to consider placing Galette under any kind of paid leave or on an exempt list – which are also both options under the new conduct policy – because the Saints don’t begin football activities until late April.

Galette’s contract does call for a guaranteed roster bonus of $12.5 million to be paid in March. It’s unclear how that could be affected by any legal issues or league punishments.

Loomis, however, said he didn’t want to “speculate” on how the team’s view of Galette could be affected by the outcome of the case.

“There’s so many variables in that,” Loomis said. “Obviously it’s a serious matter that we’re taking seriously. We’ve got to let this run its course first.”
Atlanta Falcons Pro Bowl return specialist Devin Hester has the utmost respect for Keith Armstrong, so the last thing Hester wanted to see was his special-teams coordinator end up with another team.

Hester
That won't be the case, as Armstrong is set to return to the Falcons' staff under expected new head coach Dan Quinn, currently the defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks. The Falcons blocked Armstrong from reuniting with former college teammate Todd Bowles with the New York Jets. If the move frustrated Armstrong, he's likely over it now.

Hester was asked about the significance of having Armstrong back.

"It's very important," Hester told ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss while in Arizona preparing for the Pro Bowl. "I think we finished like No. 2 overall in special teams. At one point, we were No. 1. And that speaks for itself. Coach Keith, he's the type of coach that knows how to get guys rallied up and to not get complacent.

"Guys on special teams, when they have one good game, they tend to relax. But he's the type of coach who is going to keep you going. At the end of the day, he's a players' coach. When things are not going right, he'll come to a veteran player and say, 'Give me your opinion on what we should do.' That speaks volumes. I'm just happy they brought him back. I was hoping they would bring him back."

Armstrong previously worked with Quinn with the Miami Dolphins, so the transition should be a little easier if Quinn gets the Falcons' head-coaching job. At the same time, all indication were Armstrong seriously wanted to join Bowles in New York.

What if Armstrong would have gotten away?

"I think we would have lost the fun, the desire and the emphasis of keeping guys on their toes," Hester said. "There is no relaxing in that special-teams room. If you don't take notes, you're going to get chewed out. He's going to quiz you. He's going to ask you a question out of the blue. And if you mess up, he doesn't care who you are. Me being a veteran guy and all the records that I have and making the Pro Bowl, if I mess up, he's going to get on me just as bad as he's going to get on the rookie. He's just straightforward to everybody."

Armstrong's return should be good news not only for Hester but also for veteran special-teamer Eric Weems, who led the Falcons with 11 special-teams tackles this past season. Weems is set to become a free agent but should be one of the priority players the team tries to re-sign along with kicker Matt Bryant and safety Dwight Lowery.

"I know Coach Keith is going to bring him back," Hester said of Weems. "That's his dirty-worker right there. Weems makes special teams so much easier for Coach Keith. If they don't bring (Weems) back, that's going to be very shocking."

Lovie Smith wants balanced offense

January, 22, 2015
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Dirk Koetter, the new offensive coordinator for the Buccaneers, won’t be running the exact same offense he did in his previous job with Atlanta. And he won’t be using the same system he did while with Jacksonville from 2007 through 2011.

“Dirk is running our offense, but what Dirk would say is that he’s running our Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense that we’re putting together, and it hasn’t been run before," coach Lovie Smith told reporters at the Senior Bowl on Wednesday. “We’re going to put all of our ideas together with that."

Smith said Koetter has a history of being flexible and playing to the strengths of his personnel.

“I think you can go back to everybody’s history and see some things that they like to do," Smith said. “Looking at Dirk, in Jacksonville, they had Maurice Jones-Drew and they were a running attack. And of course with the receivers, Matt Ryan and that crew, Devin Hester and those guys, they passed it more in Atlanta. That’s what we’re looking for. We feel like he can bring balance, and in order for us to win that’s what we need.”

The Bucs have many of the ingredients needed for a balanced attack. In the passing game, they have a pair of 1,000-yard receivers, Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. In the running game, there is talent with Doug Martin and Charles Sims.

But the offensive line needs some major work, and it remains to be seen who the quarterback will be. Josh McCown is the incumbent, but the Bucs could use the first overall pick in the draft on Florida State’s Jameis Winston or Oregon’s Marcus Mariota.

Whichever way the Bucs go, Smith said the goal will be to have balance on offense.

“To win in the league, you have to be able to run the football when you want to, not just when you have to," Smith said. "You need to be able to pass the football because you want to, not because you have to. Right now, we’re just going to be pretty broad with that."
For the first time, members of the New Orleans Saints will compete on separate Pro Bowl rosters Sunday. Quarterback Drew Brees landed on Team Carter, while tight end Jimmy Graham and running back Mark Ingram were selected by Team Irvin during Wednesday night's Pro Bowl draft.

This is the second year of the Pro Bowl's new conference-free format. Last year, when Brees was a captain, he drafted all of his Saints teammates to play on his team.

Brees was the second QB selected by his team, which is named after honorary captain Cris Carter. Brees will play behind Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who was selected first overall.

Graham and Ingram will play for the team captained by Michael Irvin. They were reunited with former Saints teammate Darren Sproles, who is making his long-awaited Pro Bowl debut as a return man from the Philadelphia Eagles.

MOBILE, Ala. – Mickey Loomis said he feels like a proud father who watched his son graduate – for better and for worse – when asked about new Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace on Wednesday.

Loomis, the New Orleans Saints’ GM who worked with Pace for more than a decade as he climbed the scouting ranks, used that analogy Wednesday between Senior Bowl practices.

[+] EnlargeFox/Pace
David Banks/Getty ImagesBears general manager Ryan Pace introduced John Fox as the team's head coach on Monday.
When asked if he's spoken with Pace, 37, since he became the NFL’s youngest general manager two weeks ago, Loomis said, “Yeah, more than a few times.”

“Well, first of all, if anybody has a son who’s graduated from high school or college, you know how excited and proud you are. And yet, he’s not your kid anymore. So it’s a little bit of that feeling,” Loomis said. “Look, I know that feeling of being overwhelmed right at first. But, man, he’s handled it well. He’s made a lot of great decisions already. He did a great job in his press conference. So I’m just proud of him.

“And we talk a little bit, mostly about personal things and how he’s doing, and a few questions here and there. So he’s gonna do well.”

When asked if Pace got the right coach in John Fox, Loomis said, “Yeah, absolutely.”

The Saints began moving on without Pace on Wednesday when Loomis announced the hiring of former Miami Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland to oversee college scouting. It sounds like both Ireland and pro personnel director Terry Fontenot will both play key roles in filling the void left by Pace. Loomis described Fontenot as another future NFL GM.

Pace will certainly be missed, but Loomis repeated what he’s been saying for years – that he knew it was a matter of when, not if, Pace would get away.

“I knew years ago that Ryan Pace was gonna be a general manager, he was gonna have that opportunity,” Loomis said. “He was very patient. He’s had opportunities to interview in the past, he’s turned some of those down. But this one felt right for him. And, man, I’m excited for him.”

Pace also took longtime Saints scout Josh Lucas with him and named Lucas as his player personnel director. Lucas was one of two regional scouts for New Orleans.

“That’s a good opportunity for Josh. He’s a good scout. He’ll do a good job in Chicago. But, look, we’ve got a good staff there and we’ll make up that,” said Loomis, who said both men were under contract, but, “We’re in favor of our people getting opportunities.”

“That just tells me we’re hiring the right people; we’ve got the right people in our building,” Loomis said. “And we’ve got some behind them that are gonna be just as good. So I’m excited for those guys.”
TAMPA, Fla. -- As the fallout continued from the New England Patriots allegedly deflating footballs in the AFC Championship Game, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Brad Johnson admitted he played a role in altering footballs before Super Bowl XXXVII.

“There was no wrongdoing on my part," Johnson told The Tampa Tribune on Wednesday. “I didn’t do anything wrong. I thought I was doing what was right for everybody involved in the game.”

Johnson admitted he paid two ball boys $7,500 to scuff up the balls to make them easier to throw. The opposing quarterback in that game, Rich Gannon with the Oakland Raiders, said he and Johnson discussed the balls while filming a television commercial before the game. Gannon said the condition of the footballs did not impact the game, which was won by the Bucs.

“And Brad’s a lot like me, a lot like just about every other quarterback in the league," Gannon said Wednesday on SiriusXM NFL Radio, "nobody wants to play with a ball that’s fresh out of the box and has been rubbed down a couple of times with a brush. And, quite frankly, shame on Brad for having to reach into his pocket to pay $7,500, because I wouldn’t have paid $7,500. Five hundred maybe, or a thousand maybe, but $7,500 to doctor the balls?

“And again, ‘doctored the balls’ makes it sound like you’re cheating, but all you’re trying to do is make sure they’re not slick. I think it’s a non-story, quite frankly. And it’s not the reason we lost."

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