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Keys to Training Camp: NFC South

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Atlanta Falcons

Location: Falcons Training Facility (Flowery Branch, GA)
Dates: July 25 - August 20
Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)

  1. Tracking Michael Vick's development - Vick is far from a finished product and his ineffectiveness as a passer became apparent in last year's playoffs. The team expects Vick to make major strides in his second season under OC Greg Knapp, but his progress will be a major focal point of fantasy owners and NFL fanatics this preseason.

  2. Does Peerless Price break camp with the team? - The pressure is most definitely on Peerless Price in training camp. With the Falcons selection of Roddy White in the first round, and the presence of 2nd-year Michael Jenkins, the team has made it clear Price must earn not only his starting role but also a roster spot. The Falcons desperately need more production out of a WR corps that was among the league's least productive in 2004.

  3. Battle at left guard - Mookie Moore and Matt Lehr will battle in camp for the starting spot in what should otherwise be a solid offensive line.

  4. (IDP) Williams or Reese at SLB? - Long-time Eagles special teams standout Ike Reese signed with Atlanta in hopes of competing for a starting job. He will do battle with Demorrio Williams, a 2nd year player who has the potential to be special but must improve on his decision making.

  5. (IDP) Finding a safety tandem the Falcons can count on - Ronnie Heard, Bryan Scott, Keion Carpenter and Rich Coady are all in the mix at safety, but none are complete players and would rate as backups on many NFL teams.

Carolina Panthers

Location: Wofford College (Spartanburg, SC)
Dates: July 29 - August 24
Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)

  1. Replacing Muhsin Muhammad - Muhsin Muhammad led all NFL receivers in yards and touchdowns; so it's unreasonable to think the team can replace his production with any one player. But the team hopes the return of Steve Smith (who was supposed to be the WR1 last year) and the further maturation of 2nd year Keary Colbert will, in aggregate, replace Muhammad's production.

  2. Who is going to get the carries? - Stephen Davis hasn't practiced but insists he'll be ready for the season after microfracture surgery last year. DeShaun Foster has to be the favorite entering camp, but he's never been able to stay healthy either. The team drafted bruising Eric Shelton to factor into the equation. And last year's savior Nick Goings remains on the roster. One or several of these backs is going to have to combine to give the Panthers the power, ball-control attack that got them to the Super Bowl two seasons ago.

  3. Fixing the offensive line - The offensive line went from a strength to a weakness last year, but the team hopes they've rectified the situation entering training camp. The plan includes moving Jordan Gross back to right tackle (where he excelled as a rookie), inserting Travelle Wharton at left tackle and adding Mike Wahle at guard. Whether Wharton is up to the task of playing left tackle remains a major question mark; and if he's not, it will have a domino effect throughout the line.

  4. (IDP) Where is Thomas Davis going to play? - Thomas Davis, the hard hitting rookie out of Georgia, projects as either a linebacker or safety in the NFL. The Panthers intend to start him at strong safety but given Mark Fields recurrence of cancer, Davis could be moved to linebacker if Brandon Short doesn't impress.

New Orleans Saints

Location: New Orleans Saints Complex (Metairie, LA)
Dates: July 28 - August 24
Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)

  1. Simplifying the playbook - Mike Sheppard has vowed to simplify the playbook as he takes over the coordinator duties from Mike McCarthy (who left for San Francisco). Sheppard believes the team got bogged down with intricacies and as a result had very little time to make pre-snap adjustments after the huddle.

  2. Monitoring Deuce's health and fitness - Deuce McAllister wasn't himself last year, struggling with an ankle sprain and weight gain. He wants a long-term extension and is motivated to cement himself as one of the league's preeminent runners.

  3. Will the Saints offensive line additions make a difference? - The Saints targeted the right side of their offensive line this offseason, adding proven winner Jermane Mayberry (of Eagles fame) and drafting mammoth RT Jammal Brown from Oklahoma. Their addition should solidify the right side of the line. LeCharles Bentey is a fixture at center (provided he doesn't hold out in hopes of a new deal). The only question mark is at left tackle where Wayne Gandy apparently is unhappy with team requests to reduce his salary. The team will presumably rectify any issues therein because Gandy is, by far, the Saints best option at LT.

  4. (IDP) Is Colby Bockwoldt ready to start? - The team released veteran LB Derrick Rodgers in July, opening the door for Colby Bockwoldt to start at weakside linebacker. The team lacks depth at linebacker so it will be Bockwoldt's job to lose.

  5. (IDP) Will the Saints cornerbacks show up? - Mike McKenzie wants a new contract, which is how he ended up in New Orleans in the first place (he was traded from Green Bay) as does Fakhir Brown, the other projected starter. As with most contract squabbles, both will probably end up playing one way or the other, but it bears watching particularly if either hold out for part or much of camp. The team can ill afford a lack of defensive cohesiveness.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Location: Disney's World of Sports Complex (Lake Buena Vista, FL)
Dates: July 28 - August 17
Open to the public? - YES (free of charge)

  1. Was Brien Griese worth the new contract? - A year ago the Bucs' decision to sign Brian Griese was more a curiosity than anything. But once age caught up with Brad Johnson and injury beset Chris Simms, Griese took over and flourished, seeming every bit the ideal fit for Jon Gruden's timing, precision-based passing attack. Griese was rewarded with a new deal and the starting role; now can he show the consistency that eluded him once he was given similar financial security in Denver?

  2. When does Cadillac Williams become the starter? - Jon Gruden became enamored with Cadillac Williams during the Senior Bowl, and used the 5th overall pick to select him. There is little doubt Williams will ultimately be the team's lead ball-carrier, the question becomes whether he's handed the role from Day One or gradually worked into the role. The team also has veterans Michael Pittman, Charlie Garner and Mike Alsott, who are all equipped to contribute; but Williams is expected to give the team a game-breaker they've lacked for several years.

  3. Galloway vs. Hilliard vs. The Field? - Michael Clayton is the clear number one, but veteran Joey Galloway appears to have some competition from Ike Hilliard (formerly of the Giants) and possibly youngsters Edell Shepherd and Larry Brackins. Galloway should win the starting spot, but given his age and injury history, the team likely wouldn't mind someone playing well enough to wrestle the job away.

  4. Fixing the offensive line - Several NFL previews have labeled the Buccaneers offensive line as the league's worst. Although that dubious honor is subject to debate, there's little question the line has many questions to answer entering camp. Are Derrick Deese (age) and Kenyatta Walker (consistency) capable of anchoring the line at tackle? Can Matt Stinchomb hold off rookie Dan Buenning at left guard? Will John Wade or Sean Mahan start at center? And is Jeb Terry the best option at right guard? The Bucs will no doubt look to answer these questions as quickly as possible so they can decide on a starting five and focus on cohesion in the latter part of camp.

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