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Southern Fryed

This is a weekly update compiled by Times NFL writer Darrell Fry on the Bucs' new opponents in the NFL South:

By DARRELL FRY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 9, 2002

FALCONS: Word is, the team is leaning toward staying out of the bidding for free-agent receiver Antonio Freeman to give young quarterback Michael Vick more time to develop.

Apparently, the Falcons don't want to invest in a big-name receiver until Vick is capable of getting the most out of one. Thus, the Falcons likely will go into the season with Brian Finneran, Jeff Graham and Shawn Jefferson as their primary receivers.

PANTHERS: New coach John Fox already is putting his personal stamp on the team. For the first time in franchise history, the Panthers will employ the shotgun formation.

That might help ease the pressure on second-year quarterback Chris Weinke, who has been limited in offseason workouts while recovering from shoulder surgery.

"The best way to learn it is trial and error, and it's also the hard way," long-snapper Jeff Mitchell said.

Backup quarterback Rodney Peete, who rarely has seen action in recent years, has been taking most of the snaps while Weinke heals.

SAINTS: Perhaps the only thing more important to ex-Saints linebacker Keith Mitchell than signing with a good team is signing with a team that plays the Saints this season.

Mitchell is a tad bitter after New Orleans released him last week for salary-cap and performance reasons. Mitchell understands the salary-cap part of it but believes his performance dipped last season from the Pro Bowl level of 2000 because the team's new defensive scheme didn't feature his best talents, namely rushing the passer.

Mitchell is talking to several teams but made no secret of his desire to line up against the Saints.

"Hopefully I'll get to play against them," he said. "Don't think that's not in the back of my mind."

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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