NFC South training-camp reports

PFW staff
Pro Football Weekly
NFC South training-camp reports


Site: Atlanta Falcons Training Facility, Flowery Branch, Ga.

Report date: July 25 (rookies and veterans).

Key veteran arrivals: OG Vince Manuwai, CB Asante Samuel, MLB Lofa Tatupu.

Key veteran departures: CB Kelvin Hayden, MLB Curtis Lofton, FB Ovie Mughelli, S James Sanders, WR-RS Eric Weems.

Juiciest story lines: The Falcons made some serious tweaks to their roster, letting Curtis Lofton walk in free agency, trading for CB Asante Samuel and drafting OG-C Peter Konz in the second round, but it was not a major overhaul. The players on display in training camp will be familiar to Falcons fans. The schemes on offense and defense will be different, though, with Dirk Koetter and Mike Nolan replacing Mike Mularkey and Brian VanGorder. Balancing a sense of urgency to make it back to the postseason and win with the growing pains that can arise from significant coaching-staff changes will be an interesting test for head coach Mike Smith.

Burning questions: How much does WR Julio Jones benefit from his first full offseason with the team? ... In his first season since turning 30, does RB Michael Turner look like he may be on the verge of hitting the wall? ... Is RB Jacquizz Rodgers ready to break through in his second season? ... Who wins the battle at middle linebacker between Lofa Tatupu and Akeem Dent? ... Will Sam Baker nail down the starting job he’s expected to win at left tackle? ... Will Joe Hawley unseat Todd McClure as the starting center? ... Will anyone emerge as the clear answer as the kickoff and punt returner following Eric Weems’ departure in free agency? ... Will DE Ray Edwards show signs that he will bounce back from a disappointing season?

Fearless prediction: Youth prevails. In the battles for starting spots at positions where leadership is typically expected, the Falcons tab Hawley as the starter at center, and Dent gets the nod at middle linebacker.

Fantasy nugget: It is not too early to consider drafting WR Julio Jones ahead of WR Roddy White, a longtime elite fantasy producer, in annual redraft leagues. Jones actually averaged more fantasy points per game than White (12.4 to 11.1) in standard scoring formats last season and appears primed for a breakout season.



Site: Wofford College, Spartanburg, S.C.

Report date: July 16 (rookies), July 27 (veterans).

Key veteran arrivals: OT Bruce Campbell, P Nick Harris, S Haruki Nakamura, LB Kenny Onatolu, OG Mike Pollak, S Reggie Smith, FB Mike Tolbert.

Key veteran departures: P Jason Baker, OG Mackenzy Bernadeau, LB Dan Connor, WR Legedu Naanee, OG Geoff Schwartz, OG Travelle Wharton.

Juiciest story lines: The bar is raised in Carolina. No one was expecting much from the Panthers a year ago, when Ron Rivera received his first taste of being an NFL head coach and QB Cam Newton took the league by storm in his rookie season. There is a different vibe around the team this year, and everyone is watching to see how defenses adjust to Newton and how he responds in Year Two. … The Panthers know they have to tighten up on defense after giving up the most points, yards and passing yards in the franchise’s 17-year history last season. With Rivera expected to take a more active role on defense and some key veterans returning from injury on that side of the ball, a strong camp will ease concerns about the “D.”

Burning questions: Will it be Jon Beason or rookie Luke Kuechly at middle linebacker? ... Can OLB Thomas Davis stay healthy and earn a major role? ... Will Jeff Otah finally overcome his health issues? ... How does the offense evolve in Rob Chud-zinski’s second season as coordinator? ... Will they significantly scale back calling running plays designed for Newton? ... Will WR Brandon LaFell break through in his third season? ... Who wins the competition at right cornerback between Captain Munnerlyn, Brandon Hogan and Josh Norman? ... Do they have enough to get by at defensive tackle?

Fearless prediction: The instant impact of first-year players is one of the biggest stories of camp. Beason is moved back to the weak side and the MLB job goes to Kuechly, who is the star rookie attraction of a class that boasts two other Week One starters — OLG Amini Silatolu and Norman — and two key contributors on special teams in RS Joe Adams and P Brad Nortman.

Fantasy nugget: Mike Tolbert’s arrival in Carolina is likely to come at the fantasy expense of QB Cam Newton more so than Tolbert’s fellow backs, Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. Tolbert has the potential to become the team’s go-to guy on the goal line, where Newton excelled on his way to 14 rushing TDs last season (an NFL record for quarterbacks).



Site: New Orleans Saints Training Facility, Metairrie, La.

Report date: July 24 (rookies and veterans).

Key veteran arrivals: DT Remi Ayodele, DT Brodrick Bunkley, OLB Chris Chamberlain, OG Ben Grubbs, OLB David Hawthorne, MLB Curtis Lofton, QB Luke McCown.

Key veteran departures: LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar, TE Tory Humphrey, OT Pat McQuistan, WR Robert Meachem, OG Carl Nicks, CB Tracy Porter, DT Shaun Rogers, CB Leigh Torrence.

Juiciest story lines: The Saints still have some unfinished business when it comes to dealing with the league’s penalties for their alleged bounty program — we still don’t know who will serve as head coach through the first six games of the regular season. GM Mickey Loomis has indicated he will make a decision at some point during training camp and will choose another assistant coach from the staff. The team selected assistant head coach/linebackers Joe Vitt to assume Sean Payton’s duties during Payton’s year-long suspension, but Vitt is suspended for the first six weeks of the season. ... QB Drew Brees and the Saints worked out a long-term deal prior to the July 16 deadline for franchise players to sign multi-year deals. But Brees, who stayed away from all of the team’s offseason workouts, will have to get reacquainted with his teammates and knock off some rust.

Burning questions: Does the gap between the offense and defense begin to close with Steve Spagnuolo coordinating the defense? ... Will offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael put his own stamp on the offense with Payton away from the team? ... Will a new player emerge as the clear defensive leader with Jonathan Vilma suspended?

Fearless prediction: Before he begins an eight-game suspension after the preseason concludes, Loomis will announce he’s handing the head-coaching keys to Carmichael.

Fantasy nugget: While he attracted plenty of fantasy buzz heading into last season after the Saints picked him in the first round, Mark Ingram finished as the No. 46 running back in fantasy points. With the Saints’ commitment to a three-pronged rushing attack including Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas, don’t bank on a major statistical breakthrough in Ingram's sophomore campaign.



Site: One Buccaneer Place, Tampa, Fla.

Report date: July 18 (rookies), July 26 (veterans).

Key veteran arrivals: TE Dallas Clark, DT Gary Gibson, DE Wallace Gilberry, WR Vincent Jackson, OT Jamon Meredith, DE Jayme Mitchell, OG Carl Nicks, DT Amobi Okoye, QB Dan Orlovsky, WR Tiquan Underwood, CB Eric Wright, WR Wallace Wright.

Key veteran departures: DE Tim Crowder, C Jeff Faine, OLB Geno Hayes, FS Tanard Jackson, QB Josh Johnson, RB Kregg Lumpkin, S Corey Lynch, WR-RS Micheal Spurlock, TE Kellen Winslow.

Juiciest story lines: There will be a sharp contrast in styles from last year’s Bucs camp and this season’s version. First-year head coach Greg Schiano has let go of the players that resisted his ways and praised the ones willing to adapt to his demanding, disciplined approach, but we’ll be watching to see how a young team responds when the intensity gets kicked up another notch in camp with jobs and starting spots on the line. … QB Josh Freeman, who needs to prove his disappointing 2011 season was just a bump in the road, is looking to set the tone for a bounce-back year. He’s working with a new coordinator and quarterbacks coach, and the Bucs are counting on him to make much better decisions than he did last season. They are excited to see what he’s capable of with a true No. 1 wide receiver — Vincent Jackson — in the mix.

Burning questions: Is DT Gerald McCoy going to stay healthy and break through after suffering biceps tears in each of the past two seasons? ... How are carries divided between rookie Doug Martin and LeGarrette Blount? ... Will Mike Williams hold off competition from Arrelious Benn and win a starting job? ... How will Ronde Barber fare in his transition to free safety?

Fearless prediction: The Bucs will be the most improved team in the NFC South this season, but they still will finish at the bottom of the division. There will be no doubt about whether Schiano has them on the right track by the end of the season. 

Fantasy nugget: The days of counting on Vincent Jackson to provide No. 1-fantasy-receiver production are over … for now. In a run-heavy offense with a young, developing quarterback coming off a disappointing season, Jackson should be slotted as a No. 2 fantasy receiver in 2012.