CZAR: NFC South will be a dogfight (TSN)

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  1. LaTunaNostra

    LaTunaNostra He Made the Difference

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    CZAR: NFC South will be a dogfight

    August 10, 2004 Print it

    There has been a lot of talk this season about the NFC East because of the caliber of the head coaches. However the most competitive division is the NFC South where the defending champion Carolina Panthers reside as well as Jon Gruden, the best young coach in the NFL.

    "We're going to have another dogfight this year, but I think we're ready for the challenge," Gruden told me. "The division is very good. I mean, who wouldn't want Michael Vick? And the Saints may have the most talent in the division. No one even talks about them. People are saying how many personnel changes we've made, but we still have a lot of our players. We're going to be fine."

    As much as Gruden wanted to see second-year quarterback Chris Simms push Brad Johnson for the starting job, Johnson is still in control because he knows the offense better and makes fewer mistakes. Simms has made progress and he will play a lot in preseason. With a revamped offensive line, one that still struggles on a daily basis in training camp, Johnson's downside remains his lack of mobility. If the O-line can't protect him, Simms could take the job by default.


    John Czarnecki is the exclusive NFL Insider for JB, Terry, Howie and Jimmy on the award-winning FOX NFL Sunday pregame show every weekend.

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    The obvious strength of the Bucs remains the defense. Derrick Brooks is still Derrick Brooks and Ian Gold, the former Bronco, has been sensational. He doesn't appear to have lost a step after knee surgery. With Brian Kelly back at right cornerback and Jermaine Phillips replacing John Lynch, the secondary is quicker and faster. And there isn't one offensive lineman who can contain defensive tackle Anthony McFarland.

    Although they exchanged bi-coastal barbs when Gruden left the Raiders, the coach is fine with Tim Brown being a Buc. In fact, he was probably more upset with Brown's blasts and criticisms of former head coach Bill Callahan, who was fired by Al Davis.

    General Manager Bruce Allen, another former Raider, said that Brown's arrival has nothing to do with Keenan McCardell's holdout. Allen, though, said he is adamant about not giving McCardell a new deal. "If there's anyone in this league who understands the veteran wide-receiver market and salary scale, it's me," Allen said, referring to signing Jerry Rice with the Raiders and now Brown again.

    McCardell has two years remaining on his contract, including $2.5 million this season.

    Of the departed Bucs, Lynch is the only one truly missed for his leadership. Warren Sapp is now in Oakland and Keyshawn Johnson is with his former coach, Bill Parcells, in Dallas.

    "Keyshawn never liked me from the first day, no matter what he says," Gruden said. "Now he's with his favorite coach and, I guess, he can go about dominating the NFL like he says he can."

    Gruden's tongue was planted firmly in his cheek on that last comment.

    Owens fitting in

    The Eagles had a scare with pass rusher Jevon Kearse yesterday, but the story of their training camp has been Terrell Owens. And he seems to be enjoying the daily attention, whether it means signing autographs or shaking hands with team sponsors and VIPs.

    "I can't tell you how much I'm enjoying this," Owens told me. "The whole experience here at camp (at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania) is so much different than Santa Clara. We never had thousands of fans in our place because there was no room. But you gotta love these fans. Every game we play at home, the fans are going to be jacked and I know they are going to be expecting a lot from me. I'm ready for that."

    Coach Andy Reid doesn't seem concerned with T.O.'s past. Reid has told T.O. he won't tolerate it and Owens seems willing to obey.

    "I'm simply going to treat him like I do the other players," Reid said. "I didn't need to talk to Mooch (Steve Mariucci) about him. I have Marty (Mornhinweg) here and he was in San Francisco with him. I'm not worried about anything. Basically, I feel that T.O. is a good person and a highly competitive guy. He wants to win; I know that. And he loves playing the game. I respect him for that and feel he's a great football player."

    About the only thing that Owens dislikes about Reid are the very physical practices that he wants in training camp. "I'm not used to getting beat up like this," Owens said. "I'd like to be healthy for the start of the season."

    Physically, Owens said his strained groin, which nagged him the past two seasons, is feeling much better. "It's the best I've felt in three years," Owens said. "There were games last season that I lost my focus as a receiver because I was afraid of getting hurt worse. I tried to protect myself and dropped some passes. That won't be happening this year."

    Owens said he understands that there will be games when his numbers will be down because of double coverage.

    "I understand that," Owens said. "When I was younger, I benefited from that while playing with Jerry Rice. I know they will be looking for me, but we have some other guys who catch the ball. I'm just looking forward to playing and winning."

    And what about those tough weather days in December and January. Owens, who doesn't eat meat and watches what he eats, said: "I guess I'll just have to eat some of Donovan (McNabb's) cookies and all of his gummi bears. That will put something on me."


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