Preseason Watchlist - NFC South
By Jason Wood
July 26th, 2010

Atlanta Falcons

  • Link: Falcons Training Camp Schedule FAQ
  • Location: Falcons Training Facility (Flowery Branch, GA)
  • Dates: July 29 (Rooks & Vets) - August 22
  • Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)

  • Both rookies and veterans report on July 29th to the Flowery Branch Training Facility to embark on a three and a half week camp. The Falcons return the majority of 2009's starting unit, save for CB Chris Houston who was replaced by free agent prize Dunta Robinson. Just because the starters are back doesn't mean there won't be competition in camp. There are a number of veterans the coaches would love to see displaced by emerging young talent.

    Preseason Game Schedule

  • 8/13 - Kansas City (8:00 PM EST)
  • 8/19 - New England (8:00 PM EST)
  • 8/27 - @Miami (7:00 PM EST)
  • 9/02 - @Jacksonville (7:30 PM EST)
  • What We're Watching

  • Can anyone push WR Michael Jenkins? - QB Matt Ryan has an amazing target in Roddy White and a future Hall of Famer in TE Tony Gonzalez, but beyond that the cupboard is bare. Michael Jenkins is just good enough to start but is pedestrian in the role. Can Harry Douglas, back from an injury last year, push Jenkins? If not, is there anyone else on the roster - such as rookie 5th rounder Kerry Meier - that can?

  • Re-establishing RB Michael Turner - Fickle fantasy owners feel like Michael Turner disappointed last year but before getting hurt, he was averaging a TD per game and averaging almost 5 yards per rush. Turner is the engine that makes this offense hum, and if he runs hard and looks fully recovered in camp, his place as an early first round fantasy pick will be cemented.

  • The battle at left defensive end - RDE John Abraham needs to play better in 2010 but his job is safe. The same can't be said on the left side, where disappointing Jamaal Anderson will battle with Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury.

  • Where will LB Sean Weatherspoon play? - Nineteenth overall pick Sean Weatherspoon will have the chance to make big plays right away, but it's unclear whether he'll start or replace one of the starters in 3rd down and obvious passing situations. Neither SLB Stephen Nicholas nor WLB Mike Peterson is going to give up his job easily, but Weatherspoon is too talented to keep off the field.

  • CBs Brian Williams vs. Brent Grimes vs. Chris Owens vs. Chevis Jackson - Dunta Robinson is the new fixture but the other starting job and the nickel role are to be determined. Brent Grimes is the odds on favorite but Brian Williams is capable of pushing him in camp. Owens and Jackson are probably fighting for the dime role, but are young and talented enough to surprise.

  • PKs Matt Bryant vs. Steven Hauschka - Whoever wins this job will have some value as the Falcons should be a productive offense. Bryant has the edge entering camp, but it'll be a spirited competition.

  • Carolina Panthers

  • Link: http://www.panthers.com/schedule/training-camp.html
  • Location: Wofford College (Spartanburg, SC)
  • Dates: July 28 (Rooks & Vets) - August 18
  • Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)
  • The Panthers were a tale of two halves last year and to say this camp is an important one would be an understatement. Head coach John Fox is playing out the final year of his contract and knows he needs a playoff push to have the option of staying in Carolina. The team is undergoing a changing of the guard as both long-time starting QB Jake Delhomme and defensive MVP DE Julius Peppers have moved on. As the team returns to Wofford College for the 16th time, there are plenty of questions and lots of opportunity for young players to play their way into major roles.

    Preseason Game Schedule

  • 8/12 - @Baltimore (8:00 PM EST)
  • 8/21 - New York Jets (8:00 PM EST)
  • 8/28 - Tennessee (8:00 PM EST)
  • 9/02 - @Pittsburgh (7:30 PM EST)
  • What We're Watching

  • Is QB Matt Moore the answer? - Matt Moore was 4-1 last year, completing 62% of his throws and tossing 8 TDs against just 2 interceptions. There's every reason to think Moore will take over this team and be the starter for 16 games. Except for the fact backup Hunter Cantwell has looked great all preseason AND the Panthers used a high draft pick on Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen. While we presume Moore will be "the guy", the coaches have been reserved in their endorsement so far.

  • Tracking WR Steve Smith's progress - Smith broke his arm (again) during a flag football game with friends, putting his participation in the preseason in doubt. He hopes to be back for the final preseason game against the Steelers, but either way he'll have little time to build chemistry with Moore. Fantasy owners have been willing to buy into the fact he'll be on the field for Week One, but it will be important to track his recovery for any signs of an extended time table.

  • Who is going to catch the ball? - Every season the Panthers faithful ask who is going to step up and provide a viable counterpart to Smith on the other side of the field. That question remains very much unanswered entering camp, but with Smith's injury you can be sure that everyone else on the roster is going to get ample opportunity to stake their claims. Dwayne Jarrett should be the guy but some believe he is on the roster bubble. Rookies Armanti Edwards and Brandon LaFell are also in the mix, and at least one of them is going to have to play important minutes right away. The TE position is no more certain, as the team choose to bring back the same trio of middling options: Dante Rosario, Jeff King and Gary Barnidge.

  • Any hints about the RB split? - DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are both forces of nature and would start for a majority of NFL teams. But in Carolina they're part of a true committee. They proved last year both can be viable fantasy options even splitting time, but if one clearly gets the lead role for some reason, they become a premier option in any league format.

  • Replacing defensive stalwarts - The Panthers have to replace their best defensive end (Peppers), one of their best young linebackers (Thomas Davis), and starters at safety (Harris) and defensive tackle (Lewis). At DE, Everette Brown, Charles Johnson, Tyler Brayton and Greg Hardy are the top options. At SLB, James Anderson, Jamar Williams and rookie Eric Norwood will duel. At DT, Nick Hayden, Corvey Irvin, Tank Tyler and Louis Leonard will vie for roles.

  • Upgrading the kick returner - Brian Weatherspoon, Armanti Edwards, Mike Goodson and possibly a few others will get shots at the regular season KR job.

  • New Orleans Saints

  • Link: Saints Training Camp Practice FAQ
  • Location: Saints Practice Facility (Metairie, LA)
  • Dates: July 30 - August 30
  • Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)
  • As the defending Super Bowl champions ready a month-long camp at their practice center in Metairie, the key will be avoiding a mental and emotional letdown. The champs return most of their key players and the coaching staff is intact, so this camp will be more about reinforcing what's already working versus trying to change things.

    Preseason Game Schedule

  • 8/12 - @New England (7:30 PM EST)
  • 8/21 - Houston (8:00 PM EST)
  • 8/27 - San Diego (8:00 PM EST)
  • 9/02 - @Tennessee (8:00 PM EST)
  • What We're Watching

  • Settling on a QB2 - Drew Brees is such an exceptional player that any backup would be hard pressed to do a fraction of what Brees does on the field. But in a league where injuries are omnipresent, it's hard to believe the Saints are comfortable with Chase Daniel as the backup. There have been reports that either Mark Brunell or Patrick Ramsey will sign soon, which makes a ton of sense.

  • Is WR Robert Meachem healthy? - Meachem had a breakout season in 2009 (722 yards, 9 TDs) but had a pin inserted in his toe this offseason. It's unclear whether he'll be limited for training camp, but if he is the Saints have a lot of other able bodied receivers that would love the chance of taking his snaps.

  • Hints about the RB balance of power - Mike Bell has signed in Philadelphia leaving Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush and Lynell Hamilton as the main ball carriers. No RB was on the field more than 50% of the time last year, and that's likely the way it will be in 2010. But fantasy owners are hoping for signs that either Thomas or Bush are being readied for a larger role.

  • Replacing LB Scott Fujita - Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Clint Ingram are the lead options to start in Fujita's place; with Dunbar having a slight edge given his familiarity with his system.

  • Holding down the fort for S Darren Sharper - Sharper was the defensive savior last year but underwent microfracture surgery in the offseason; his timetable is uncertain. The Saints hope Malcolm Jenkins (last year's 1st rounder) can thrive at the safety position after struggling to earn reps at cornerback. If he doesn't take to the transition, Usama Young will likely get the nod.

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • Link: http://www.buccaneers.com/schedule-and-events/trainingcamp.html
  • Location: One Buccaneer Place (Tampa Bay, FL)
  • Dates: July 30 (Rooks & Vets) - August 7
  • Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)
  • The Buccaneers had a tumultuous preseason last year that included the dismissal of the team's offensive coordinator and a four-way competition for the starting quarterback position. As the Bucs head to One Buccaneer Place on July 30th, there are far fewer questions and more opportunity to build off the foundation laid in 2009. Raheem Morris has taken over the defensive play-calling and will do without a coordinator this season. This is a young team that will need major contributions from its rookie class to remain competitive.

    Preseason Game Schedule

  • 8/14 - @Miami (7:00 PM EST)
  • 8/21 - Kansas City (7:30 PM EST)
  • 8/28 - Jacksonville (7:30 PM EST)
  • 9/02 - @Houston (8:00 PM EST)
  • What We're Watching

  • TE Kellen Winslow's knees - Winslow is, by far, the Bucs best offensive player and the team can ill afford for him to miss any time. It was revealed that Winslow underwent his sixth knee procedure in five years this offseason. Winslow and the team insist he'll be fine for training camp, but any backpedaling on his recovery would be a major warning flag.

  • Are the rookie WRs ready for prime time? - Normally rookie receivers are a poor bet for fantasy success, but the Bucs may have no other option but to give Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams major roles. Nothing is set in stone however as Maurice Stovall, Reggie Brown, Sammie Stroughter and Michael Clayton all have designs on top spots.

  • Are the rookie DTs ready for prime time? - An even bigger question is whether 3rd overall pick Gerald McCoy and mammoth 2nd rounder Brian Price are ready to fix the league's worst run defense, but both should start right away provided they are signed and in camp on time.

  • Will LT Donald Penn hold out? - Donald Penn refused to sign the Bucs RFA tender and he wants a long-term deal, and it's unclear whether Penn is willing to hold out to make his case. Penn is an essential piece to the team's rebuilding process and it would be unwise to allow his contract situation to cause a distraction.

  • SSs Sean Jones vs. Sabby Piscatelli - Sean Jones was one and done in Philadelphia but projects as the starter at strong safety. Either that, or Jones will finally awaken the full potential of Piscatelli, who coaches understandably want to see more from.

  • Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to wood@footballguys.com.

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