NFC South minicamp preview


The NFC South added plenty of important pieces through free agency and the NFL Draft this offseason. In a division that seems to fluctuate every year, what should we be expecting from each team heading into minicamp and OTAs?

The Atlanta Falcons finished with the No. 1 seed in the conference last season, while the other three teams failed to even make it to .500. Rising young talent floods the entire NFC South. Several big-name free agents and multiple draft picks make an even more competitive group. How will everyone turn out now? Let's look at what to key an eye up for in minicamp.

Atlanta Falcons

OTAs: May 28-30, June 4-6, June 11-14
Mandatory minicamp: June 18-20
Rookie minicamp: May 3-5

The Falcons biggest offensive questions surround the offensive line. Is Lamar Holmes ready to take over at right tackle? Is Peter Konz sliding over to center? Matt Ryan's protection is key to another deep run in the playoffs. Steven Jackson is looking to find his role in the offense. It's unclear how much time he will be sharing with Jacquizz Rodgers.

Defensively, rookies Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford are fighting for playing time at corner. Asante Samuel is locked in as a starter, but will Robert McClain remain in the slot or move outside to let a rookie in? Brian Banks will be one of the biggest story lines as well. If he performs well, he can be a needed contributor to the linebacking corps.

Carolina Panthers

OTAs: May 21-23, May 28-30, June 3-6
Mandatory minicamp: June 11-13
Rookie minicamp: May 10-12

Kenjon Barner will see if he can manage any playing time his rookie season. The Panthers are already loaded at running back. Past Steve Smith, wide receiver was a concern for Carolina last year. Now with Domenik Hixon battling Brandon LaFell for the No. 2 spot, Cam Newton will have at least two weapons after Smith.

Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short should be starting rather soon on the defensive line. Those are two monsters up front to bolster and already decent run defense. Corner Drayton Florence provides veteran leadership in the secondary. Also, Ted Ginn. Jr. gives the Panthers a return specialist and possibly a new threat for Newton at wideout.

New Orleans Saints

OTAs: May 21-23, May 28-30, June 10-13
Mandatory minicamp: June 4-6
Rookie minicamp: May 10-12

Sean Payton is back, so the Saints will try to return to normalcy on offense. Who will be protecting Drew Brees' blindside in 2013, though? Charles Brown and Terron Armstead and the two front-runners for that new role with Jermon Bushrod gone. Benjamin Watson will be looking for playing time behind Jimmy Graham. Rookie wideout Kenny Stills gives Brees another weapon in the passing game if he can earn enough playing time to make a true impact.

Rob Ryan's new defense is the major story line to watch. Converting to a 3-4 base leaves plenty of questions surrounding the current roster. Does Will Smith move to outside linebacker? How much playing time will rookie John Jenkins receive on the center of the line? Kenny Vaccaro has high expectations for his rookie season. He and Keenan Lewis will attempt to fix the porous Saints secondary.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

OTAs: May 20-21, May 23, May 29-31, June 3-4, June 6-7
Mandatory minicamp: June 11-13
Rookie minicamp: May 3-5

Darrelle Revis was arguably the biggest acquisition for any NFC South team in 2013. His progress coming off of ACL surgery will be closely monitored workouts begin. Rookie Johnthan Banks was also brought in to help fix the worst pass defense from 2012. The secondary remains the No. 1 concern. Revis's health directly impact the improvement.

On offense, is Mike Glennon prepared to put the heat on Josh Freeman? LeGarrette Blount was traded to the Patriots, so who will become the No. 2 running back behind Dough Martin? Rookie Mike James should be ready to take on that role. Getting the running game going again is key for the Bucs this year.

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