NFL Training Camp Primer: NFC South

Matt Ryan

Veterans report to NFL training camps as early as Saturday, and by the week’s end every team will be back to the business of football.

XN Sports will be previewing each division prior to the start of training camp to give the major storylines for each of the 32 NFL teams as they begin their camps.

Training Camp Primer: AFC East

Training Camp Primer: NFC East

Training Camp Primer: AFC North

Here’s the XN Sports Training Camp Primer for the NFC South:

Atlanta Falcons

Can Jake Matthews bolster the Falcons’ pass protection? Last year Matt Ryan was sacked 44 times and hit 100 times. The owner expressed making the team tougher in the trenches, then added Matthews with the No. 6 pick.

Is Julio Jones 100 percent? One of the league’s elite receivers, Jones is the Falcons’ clear-cut No. 1 target with Roddy White another year older and Tony Gonzalez no longer in the league. Jones is coming off a troublesome foot injury.

Can Devonta Freeman push Steven Jackson for the starting running back job? Freeman may emerge as one of the most skilled backs in the rookie class, but in his way is the veteran Jackson, who is coming off a 2013 campaign full of injuries. Perhaps the team drafted Freeman with the vision he’d win the job.

Is Kroy Biermann capable of being a premier pass-rusher? The Falcons are moving to a 3-4, and Biermann is the most capable edge rusher on the defense. He’d be a stand-up linebacker now.

Will Desmond Trufant continue to ascend? Last year’s first-round pick impressed right out of the gate, and now he’ll be counted on to be a true No. 1 corner in a division loaded with big, athletic receivers.

Carolina Panthers

Who is Cam Newton going to throw to? Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn Jr. are all gone, leaving Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and rookie Kelvin Benjamin as the top three wideouts. Can Cam continue to develop with a lackluster receiving unit?

Is Newton going to spend a lot of time on the ground this year? Nate Chandler is replacing Jordan Gross at left tackle, and you cannot underestimate the loss of a veteran blindside protector.

Can Carolina assemble a running game? DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are still on the team, but neither have been very productive in recent seasons. Can these two suddenly re-discover their form?

What’s the deal with Greg Hardy? The Panthers’ premier pass-rusher was found guilty on assault charges and could face a suspension. He was slapped with the franchise tag this offseason and will make $13.1 million, all guaranteed. But will they be paying him to stand on the sidelines?

New Orleans Saints

How does Jimmy Graham look? A very well-paid Graham will be at camp, but he missed all of OTAs and minicamps due to his contract holdup. Can he and Drew Brees quickly get on the same page?

Who replaces Darren Sproles? Sproles is now in Philadelphia, but the team brought back Pierre Thomas to be the passing-down back. Travaris Cadet is one name to keep an eye on as a third-down Sproles type of receiving threat.

Is Brandin Cooks legit? He’s already garnering Offensive Rookie of the Year hype before playing an NFL down. The speedster should see plenty of opportunities in the high-octane Saints offense.

How good is this secondary? Champ Bailey and Jairus Byrd are new to a unit already featuring a budding star in Kenny Vaccaro and Keenan Lewis. The Saints are now in the discussion for having a top-five secondary.

Can Tim Lelito hold off Jonathan Goodwin for the starting center job? Goodwin started for the Saints during their Super Bowl run, but then left to anchor the 49ers’ offensive line. Second-year player Lelito is currently penciled in as the starter, but the team signed Goodwin over the summer to push him for the job.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

This is Josh McCown‘s job, right? The Bucs brought McCown to town after a breakout 2013 season with the Bears. Was McCown a product of the Marc Trestman offense or did he turn a corner in his career? We’ll find out soon enough.

Is Doug Martin healthy? Martin was one of the best running backs two years ago before injuries sidelined him in 2013. Can Martin return to form this year?

What should we expect out of Mike Evans? The highly touted Evans was the Bucs’ first-round pick, and combined with Vincent Jackson gives McCown a very Brandon MarshallAlshon Jeffery-esque type of receiving tandem to work with.

What impact will Lovie Smith have on this defense? The team signed Alterraun Verner away from Tennessee, and Johnthan Banks will step into a starting role. Smith has always had good cornerback tandems to work with.

Is Dashon Goldson going to be 100 percent? The Bucs’ big free-agent signing last offseason, Goldson underwent foot surgery in February and missed OTAs and minicamps. He’s a key cog in the new-look Bucs secondary, but disappointed in his first year away from the 49ers.

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Sam Spiegelman
Sam Spiegelman is a native New Yorker covering sports in New Orleans. He likes Game of Thrones way too much. Tweet him @samspiegs.