Sunday, August 8, 2010

NFC South Training Camp

NFC South...The Dirty South looks top-heavy again in 2010...New Orleans Saints are the Champs...Hotlanta is on the verge of being really significant in the NFC...Carolina has a new QB enterring his first full season...and in Tampa the Buccaneers try to continue to move forward in the Raheem Morris era

New Orleans
Who Dat are the defending Champs and the sure place to start...oddly enough does much need to be said though?

New Orleans returns most of the 2009 Super Bowl unit which puts them in a rare Training Camp scenario...they don't really have any scheme/strategy/personnel areas of concern...pretty much a case of stay healthy and keep on the path you are already on...no Offense was better in 2009 than the Saints, and no Offense scored more than Drew Brees et al...Brees in particular was a record setter in '09...Saints have Patrick Ramey (1 start and 2 TD's in the last 6 seasons) plus 2nd year man Chase Daniel, and rookie Sean Canfield (7th round Oregon State)...we see that the Saints will be using Training Camp to make sure Brees is a healthy QB, which luckily for Who Dat is his history...the drop-off from Brees to any of the back-ups look like a step one

A Top Ten running game actually has a chance to improve...gone is RB Mike Bell, but Pierre Thomas is averaging 5.1 yards per carry over his 3 year career and he ballooned to 5.4 last season...is it just me or is the jury still out on Reggie Bush as a RB?  If he ever can get a bit more consistent that would only add to this unit...3rd year RB Lynell Hamilton will be using Training Camp to try and get in the mix too...any/all of them are sure to get a boost with the return of FB Heath Evans
super athlete TE Jimmy Graham
We know Brees and Head Coach Sean Payton will use Training Camp to further scheme how to spread the football throughout their talented group of WR's (Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Robert Meacham, Lance Moore, plus TE's Jeremy Shockey and David Thomas)...add rookie TE Jimmy Graham (6'6" 260 3rd round from the U)...Graham was a basketball player for the Miami Hurricanes from '05 to '09...he does have only 1 year of football under his belt, but his athleticism may have a chance to be molded and utilized in New Orleans by an Offensive mind like Payton
Offensive Line is a strength of this team...a TON of talent here...a TON of depth here too...the unit has Pro-Bowl'ers-a-plenty, plus a return from injury for Jammal Brown, and a rookie who will be using Training Camp to show that he too can add depth to this unit in Charles Brown (6'6" 303 pounds from USC - 2nd round)

Only a handful of the D's in the NFL were worse than Defensive Coordinator Greg Williams' Saints unit in the regular season...the unit was creating turnovers though, and really caught fire during the play-off run to, and through, the Super Bowl
Saints DE Will Smith
Training Camp will be a chance for Williams to improve the D-Line...Alex Brown (free agent from the Bears) is in...Jimmy Wilkerson (Tampa Bay previously) is in...as is rookie Al Woods (4th round LSU)...they will try to fit along side of the very good Saints DE Will Smith (Smith able to record a career high 13 sacks in '09 despite parents who just don't understand)...Saints seem to be on-again/off-again with veteran Bobby McCray
At Linebacker Scott Fujita is out, but there is a lot of young talent here to look at in Training Camp...Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Marvin Mitchell, Jonathan Casillas, Zak Keasey, and Anthony Walters will all get a chance to show their worth
On Special Teams the Saints are an odd unit...Top 5 on Kick Return yards...absolute worst in the NFL at Punt Return yards...will Training Camp provide a renewed sense of optimism for Reggie Bush as a Return man?!?!

Gotta feel good for the Falcons faithful...2008-2009 was the first time ever that this franchise produced back-to-back winning seasons...2010 looks to be #3 IMO...Training Camp is the place to start...

The Offense was middle-of-the-pack in '09...that has a chance to improve in '10...3rd year QB Matt Ryan will be using his third Training Camp as the stage to take his next steps as a QB...all of his stats fluctuated in '09 from '08...some up, others down...but all-in-all I think we would agree that this season should provide Ryan with an opportunity to take his development to that next level as far as consistency, and the Kobe Bryant effect (contributing to winning)...a return to 100% health would surely go a long way in allowing Ryan to continue his development (difficult Turf Toe injury plagued him in 2009)

Roddy White celebrates a TD
Ryan has talent to throw to...not the least of which is stud WR Roddy White, and great TE Tony Gonzalez...Training Camp needs to be a time of improvement for WR's Michael Jenkins and Harry Douglas, plus our first pro-look at rookie Kerry Meier (5th round Kansas)...Eric Weems was used a bit in 2009, plus veteran Brian Finneran is still around too

The running game just needs a return to health...the talent is there...Michael Turner in particular needs to get healthy after dealing with nagging injuries (especially in his right ankle)...his potential is evident...1,200+ yard rusher easily if healthy...Dirty Birds also have Jerious Norwood and his 4.30 40-yard dash speed...Jason Snelling will be using Training Camp to try and show that he can be given an increased workload in 2010...all of the above are buoyed by the blocking skills of FB Ovie Mughelli

This team finished very strong on D in 2009 and will be looking to use Training Camp to simply build on that positive finish...their overall #'s were poor...only a few teams in the League sacked the QB less than the Falcons...this month will be a chance to re-energize the likes of John Abraham, Jamaal Anderson, Chauncey Davis, Lawrence Sidbury, Kroy Biermann, Peria Jerry, Thomas Johnson, Vance Walker, and Jonathan Babineau...all the above play on the D-Line...on the surface looks like a lot more talent than the lame 28 sacks from 2009...rookie DT Corey Peters (3rd round Kentucky) will try to add his helmet to the mix too

rookie Sean Weatherspoon
The Linebacker crew needs to get going in Training Camp...and right away it gets a shot-in-the-arm from rookie addition Sean Weatherspoon (1st round Missouri)...the continued development of stud-in-the-making Curtis Lofton is also on the to-do list...Stephen Nicholas started 13 games at LB for Hotlanta in '09 and he will look to continue his progression

Frank Grimes

Very few Secondary units struggled last season as poorly as the Falcons did...only 15 INT's...the off-season sure provided talent for this unit though...free-agent Dunta Robinson (Texans) will help...as will rookie CB Dominique Franks (5th round Oklahoma) and rookie Safety Shann Schillinger (6th round Montana)...veteran Brian Williams returns from injury...Brent Grimes (no relation to Homer Simpson-hater Frank Grimes aka Grimey) Chevis Jackson, and Chris Owens are all young CB's who will have a chance to show their value in Camp

Head Coach John Fox could be leading his Carolina Panthers through Training Camp for the final time...heading into the final year of his contract Fox is certainly on the hot seat...Panthers have qualified for the play-offs only once in the last 4 seasons...

QB's Jimmy Clausen and Matt Moore
QB may not exactly be listed as a strength...no other NFL team has less experience at the position than Carolina...Matt Moore is the man for now, but the Panthers did address their future in the draft...rookies Jimmy Clausen (2nd round Fighting Irish) and Tony Pike (6'6" 6th rounder from Cincinnati) will use Training Camp as their first opportunity to show that they belong as the #2, and soon to be #1...their development could be very interesting

Carolina used the draft to try to find a WR(s) to compliment WR Steve Smith...Muhsin Muhammad is gone...rookies Brandon LaFell (3rd round LSU) Armanti Edwards (3rd round Appalachian State - Wildcat or specialty formation QB/WR) and David Gettis (6th round Baylor) will all get a chance in Camp to show that they can contribute...LaFell and Gettis both at 6'3'' tall...young guys like Wallace Wright, Kenny Moore, Charly Martin, and Dwayne Jarrett will all get their chance too

RB's Jonathan Stewart & DeAngelo Williams
The running attack for the Panthers is Top 5 in the NFL...it is under the microscope though in Camp as great RB's Jonathan Stewart (1,133 yards) and DeAngelo Williams (1,117 yards) both had monster 2009's, but both had off-season surgeries...the Fullback position will have a new starter...Brad Hoover is gone...2nd year player Tony Fiammetta will be given the opportunity to be the guy

The 2009 Defense was a Top 10 unit, but they lost sack leader Julius Peppers...the D-Line will be getting a brand new look in Training Camp...all spots are open for grabs...let's watch Tyler Brayton, Everette Brown, Charles Johnson, Ed Johnson, Tank Tyler, Louis Leonard, Hilee Taylor, and Nick Hayden will all get a chance to contribute to the front 4...not much experience here

The Linebacker unit has potential...Jon Beason is a beast...Thomas Davis returns from injury...James Anderson, Dan Conner, Quinton Culberson, and Jamar Williams will all get a look in Training Camp to show that they can replace the departed Na'il Diggs...that last group may see rookie Eric Norwood (4th round South Carolina Gamecocks) pass them on the depth chart in Training Camp

 The Secondary is certainly a strength in Charlotte...Top 5 unit...the continued development of guys like Richard Marshall, Captain Munnerlyn, C.J. Wilson is necessary to add to Kevin Gamble's ability at CB...rookies R.J.Stanford (7th round Utah) and Robert McClain (7th round Connecticut) will have their chance to show they can add depth as well...the Safety spots will be decided in Camp between guys like 3rd year man Charles Godfrey, 2nd year man Sherrod Martin, and rookie Jordan Pugh (6th round Texas A&M) who will compete with veterans like Aaron Francisco and Marcus Hudson

On Special Teams this unit really struggled in 2009...the unit promises to get better and will use Training Camp to get going under new Coordinator Jeff Rodgers...look for improvement on both the Return units and the Coverage units

Tampa Bay
 Josh Freeman & Josh Johnson
In the entire NFL few teams need Training Camp as much as the young (and getting younger) Buccaneers...Raheem Morris enters his 2nd Season at the helm of this rebuilding pirate ship...Morris and his mateys try to improve on a 3-13 2009

At QB youngsters like 3rd year Josh Johnson and 2nd year Josh Freeman will use Training Camp to continue their development...both had poor #'s in '09 but that was expected due to their youth, plus the overall lack of talent on this entire roster currently...the quality and strength of Freeman's arm could have him ahead of Johnson to start Training Camp...

The names on the WR unit do not exactly read like a who's who...only Michael Clayton is recognizable...Clayton caught 80 passes for 1,200 in his rookie season of 2004, but has averaged just 28 catches and 350 yards per season since then...as poor as those #'s are they are still king on this unit...Reggie Brown was added as a free agent from Philly...2nd year man Sammie Stroughter will look to continue his development...the draft provided talent to this unit in rookies Arrelious Benn (2nd round Illinois) and Mike Williams (4th round from Syracuse)...Training Camp will be a chance for TE Kellen Winslow to continue to develop his chemistry with Josh's Freeman and Johnson...same can be said for WR Maurice Stovall...Reggie Brown joins the team as a free agent from the Eagles

While the WR unit is young, the RB unit is deep and veteran...Cadillac Williams was back in '09 and has veterans Derick Ward plus Earnest Graham as his backfield mates...Morris and 2nd year Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson will use a run-first strategy to try and improve on an offense that scored more points than only 2 teams last season...as bad as the Bucs D was in '09 we see that a running game is also a way to control the clock and keep the sad-sack D on the sideline

another sack for Gerald McCoy
Speaking of that Tampa D let's take a look...no team struggled more when it came to stopping the run last year...few teams had fewer sacks too...the Bucs certainly added talent to the D-Line through the draft...Gerald McCoy (#3 overall pick from Oklahoma) and Brian Price (2nd round from UCLA) plus Erik Long (7th round from Stanford) all were added to the mix...McCoy (6'4" 300 pounds) is a beast and an instant upgrade...landing him was a major good-news story for this franchise

The Linebacker group needs to develop depth...Barrett Rudd is a stud...Geno Hayes and Quincy Black both took big steps forward in 2009, and look to use Training Camp to continue their development...Adam Hayward is in this boat too...

Hard to believe that a 3-13 team could have any strengths, but the Secondary was pretty good in '09...Top 10 unit...it has been a decade since Ronde Barber missed a start...young guys like Aqib Talib and Elbert Mack will get a chance in Camp to show that they can have an increased workload...the Safety position has a longer line of players auditioning...Tanard Jackson, Sabby Piscitelli, Corey Lynch will all be in the mix...as will rookies Myron Lewis (3rd round Vanderbilt) and Cody Grimm (7th round Va Tech)

On Special Teams the times they are a-changin'...this franchise was the worst Return team in the League for decades, but 2009 displayed a unit that was one of the absolute best...going forward there is a lot of room for optimism that '09 was no fluke in that department...the Punt game could improve with the drafting of Brent Bowden (6th round Va Tech)

NFC East is below...NFC North is below...all 4 AFC Divisions are below...scroll down, or use the Blog Archive to view those...NFC West blog is en route...drop me a line craig.ballard@hotmail.com