NFL

NFL training camp 2019: NFC South preview

By Sports Desk July 17, 2019

The NFC South had its fair share of issues and controversies last season, which could be the chips on shoulders to drive teams to fight for a Super Bowl this time around.

Clearly, the New Orleans Saints are still stinging from that no-call against the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship. But also, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lacked discipline, the Carolina Panthers imploded in the middle of the season and the Atlanta Falcons' litany of injuries caused them to finish the year as average as a dry toast.

However, it's a new campaign and NFC South teams have the talent to get far in the playoffs. Drew Brees looks as healthy as ever at 40 and has a steady offense under him in New Orleans, while the Bucs have a new coach in Bruce Arians to freshen things up.

The Falcons have to be healthier this year and can count on the return of safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen, while the Panthers' receiving corps should be solid with a refreshed Greg Olsen and free agent acquisition Chris Hogan.

Here is what to expect from the NFC South in 2019:

 

TEAM ON THE RISE:

Atlanta Falcons

Last season was a disaster for the Falcons. The team was plagued by injuries, especially along the offensive line, which made quarterback Matt Ryan an easy target (he was sacked a whopping 42 times).

This season, most of the injured starters are back, and if the team can remain healthy, they can match the pace the Saints have set in the division.

On the defensive side of the ball, Grady Jarrett just came to terms on a new deal and Deion Jones has returned from a foot injury. The Falcons also re-signed Adrian Clayborn, who sacked Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott six times in 2017 but spent last season with the New England Patriots.

Barring any injury setbacks, a healthy Falcons team could get back to their 2016 level, when they won the NFC.

TEAM ON THE DECLINE:

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Yeah, yeah. This one seems too easy. Despite getting an elite coach in Arians, there are still some issues with the Bucs that are too much to overlook.

Quarterback Jameis Winston is a key factor – the 25-year-old has been plagued with off-field issues and inconsistent play that saw him benched last season for Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Many think Arians can fix Winston, but Winston has barely improved during his time in the league.

Combined with poor defensive play and subpar safeties, Arians might need a couple of years to rebuild this team.

ROOKIES TO WATCH:

Erik McCoy, C, Saints: New Orleans traded up to get McCoy in the second round of the draft, with the team wanting to bolster an offensive line that was top-tier last season. Unless McCoy struggles in training camp and preseason or gets injured, he's expected to be a starter and make an immediate impact. He's already impressed at OTAs and received a lot of first-team reps. He could anchor a line that will make it difficult for any defense to get to Brees.

Devin White, LB, Buccaneers: White was selected with the fifth overall pick, and the Bucs hope he can help begin to solve their defensive woes (27th overall in 2018). White has speed and agility, evidenced during his time at LSU. Could he hold the key to making the Bucs a formidable defense? He will work under Todd Bowles, who joined Tampa Bay as the defensive coordinator and is known for his love of blitzing. The Buccaneers will likely hit the ground running with White and use his talents starting in Week 1.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT:

Christian McCaffrey

McCaffrey impressed in his second NFL season (1,098 yards rushing, 867 yards receiving, 13 TDs), and there's no reason he won't be poised for success again this year. He has also become the team's primary back, with Cameron Artis-Payne and Elijah Hood being re-signed as cover and the team drafting Jordan Scarlett and signing the undrafted Elijah Holyfield. McCaffrey will need his backups' help to ensure his health, but expect him to surpass 2,000 combined yards this season.

KEY INJURIES:

Cam Newton, shoulder: The Panthers quarterback was shut down at the end of last year because of a nagging shoulder injury and underwent surgery in the offseason. He's altered how he throws to keep his shoulder healthy and hasn't participated in minicamps as he continues rehab. Will Newton look like his old self by the end of training camp, when the regular season rolls around?

Marcus Davenport, toe: The Saints defensive end's rookie season was derailed by a toe injury, and he later admitted he never fully recovered. Flash forward to 2019. Davenport is expected to complement Cam Jordan in the Saints' pass-rush scheme. He's had a full offseason for his toe to recover from a procedure and the heat is on for him to help turn the Saints defense, 14th overall in 2018, into something more formidable.

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    The Carolina Panthers are "cautiously optimistic" over the fitness of quarterback Cam Newton, who sustained an injury on Thursday.

    Newton left the Panthers' game against the New England Patriots with a foot injury, and underwent further tests on Friday to ascertain the extent of the issue.

    The 30-year-old had also undergone an x-ray on Thursday, with those scans coming back clean.

    Panthers' general manager Marty Hurney offered a further update on Friday, describing Newton's injury as a "mid-foot sprain".

    "Cam Newton has a mid-foot sprain in his left foot, and we are cautiously optimistic he will be ready for week one," Hurney said, as reported by The Athletic.

    Even though the Panthers are cautiously optimistic, there has to be concern about how quickly Newton, who was sacked twice by the Patriors, can be back to 100 per cent fitness.

    Speculation has mounted over whether the Panthers could make a move for Colin Kaepernick, who has been without a team since opting out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers in 2017.

  • Kingsbury explains Cardinals' decision to sign Crabtree Kingsbury explains Cardinals' decision to sign Crabtree

    Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury expects Michael Crabtree to be a major contributor following his arrival.

    The Cardinals signed wide receiver Crabtree to a one-year deal, reportedly worth $5.5million on Wednesday.

    First-year Cardinals coach Kingsbury discussed the team's decision to sign Crabtree – who swapped the Baltimore Ravens for Arizona – when he met with reporters on Thursday.

    "I think he's been a very productive player in this league," Kingsbury said at his news conference. "Very savvy, mentally tough player, plays physical, brings a lot for our young receivers to learn from and be around.

    "We're excited about him. ... Super competitive. Still has a real desire to play and play at a high level."

    Crabtree, spent last season with the Ravens, catching 54 passes for 607 yards and three touchdowns. He has also played for the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders during his 10-year career. 

    "We like what we've seen on tape," Kingsbury said. "[Cardinals general manager] Steve [Keim] feels really good about it, talking to other coaches and how he's continuing to get better and we think he comes in and provides depth right away. So, we're looking forward to getting him here and getting him out there."

    Crabtree will be competing for the second spot on the Cardinals' depth chart behind veteran Larry Fitzgerald.

    "I know he'll bring some value to our group," Fitzgerald said.

    The Cardinals have two preseason games remaining before they host the Detroit Lions in week one action on September 8.

     

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