Seventh in a series of training-camp reports.
Training-camp site: Falcons headquarters, Flowery Branch, Ga.
Training-camp report date: July 29.
Key veteran arrival: CB Dunta Robinson.
Key veteran departures: CB Tye Hill, CB Chris Houston, LS Mike Schneck.
Drafted rookies: (1) LB Sean Weatherspoon; (3) DT Corey Peters, OG Mike Johnson; (4) OG Joe Hawley; (5) CB Dominique Franks, WR Kerry Meier; (6) S Shann Schillinger.
Offensive overview: The offseason gave QB Matt Ryan, RB Michael Turner and WR Harry Douglas time to recover from the injuries they suffered last year, and Atlanta is expecting each of them to come back strong in 2010. The Falcons, who made few personnel changes on offense, will continue to employ a power-running attack led by Turner and a gritty offensive line, which should lead to opportunities for Ryan to keep defenses off-balance with play-action. There has been talk of the unit operating out of the no-huddle more often in 2010 and offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey could get more creative with a maturing Ryan under center. The third-year quarterback has a talented tandem of targets in WR Roddy White and TE Tony Gonzalez.
Defensive overview: The Falcons made a major upgrade at a position of need by signing CB Dunta Robinson on the first weekend of free agency, and they also spent their top draft pick on OLB Sean Weatherspoon. With its top two draft picks from 2009 — DT Peria Jerry and S William Moore — on the mend after landing on injured reserve early last season, Atlanta believes it has the pieces necessary to make significant improvements on defense. The personnel have changed, but head coach Mike Smith is a proponent of zone coverage, and he's not expected to alter his philosophy much. Getting more production out of the pass rush will be key, and there will be a competition between DEs Kroy Biermann, Jamaal Anderson and Lawrence Sidbury for reps opposite DE John Abraham.
Battle to watch: Brent Grimes, Brian Williams, Chris Owens and Chevis Jackson will compete to become the starting left cornerback. It's believed that Grimes and Williams, who have the most starting experience of the four, are the most legitimate contenders, but Owens showed promise as a rookie. Jackson appears to be the least likely of the four to win the job.
Injury update: Jerry, who is recovering from a torn ACL, is expected to be ready for training camp after sitting out minicamps and OTAs, but it's possible that he'll be eased back into the routine. Douglas is apparently progressing well from his recovery from a torn ACL and is expected to participate when camp starts, as is Williams, who also tore an ACL in '09. Turner is in better condition than he was last season and his ankle is reportedly close to 100 percent. He missed most of the second half of last season with a high ankle sprain. Ryan said in April that the turf toe injury he suffered last season is no longer an issue.
Fantasy sleeper: Douglas flashed big-play ability as a rookie and he could have a breakout season if the ACL tear didn't diminish his explosiveness. The Falcons envision him playing a Wes Welker-like role in the slot.
Training-camp site: Wofford College, Spartanburg, S.C.
Training-camp report date: July 28.
Key veteran arrivals: DT Ed Johnson, S Aaron Francisco, OLB Jamar Williams.
Key veteran departures: QB Jake Delhomme, OLB Na'il Diggs, S Chris Harris, FB Brad Hoover, LB Landon Johnson, DT Maake Kemoeatu, DT Damione Lewis, PK Rhys Lloyd, WR Muhsin Muhammad, DE Julius Peppers.
Drafted rookies: (2) QB Jimmy Clausen; (3) WR Brandon LaFell, WR Armanti Edwards; (4) OLB-DE Eric Norwood; (6) DE Greg Hardy, WR David Gettis, CB Jordan Pugh, QB Tony Pike; (7) CB R.J. Stanford, CB Robert McClain.
Offensive overview: The Panthers are entering a season without Jake Delhomme as their starting quarterback for the first time since 2002. QB Matt Moore is expected to take over after performing well in a starting stint last season, but he could face a challenge from rookie Jimmy Clausen. No matter who is under center, Carolina will prominently feature its top running backs, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, who form one of the most effective rushing tandems in the league. The Panthers will try to strike a better balance between the air and ground games this season now that the turnover-prone Delhomme is gone, but the performances of rookie WRs Brandon LaFell and Armanti Edwards will play a major role in deciding the passing game's capabilities.
Defensive overview: The front seven on defense will look significantly different. DE Julius Peppers departed in free agency and WLB Thomas Davis could miss the entire season after tearing his ACL for the second time in seven months during June practice. Carolina is considering moving Jon Beason from middle to weak-side linebacker, and second-year DE Everette Brown is expected to help replace Peppers' production as a pass rusher. The interior of the defensive line also will require some sorting out in training camp and could be a major weakness in coordinator Ron Meeks' cover-2 zone. The secondary wasn't immune to the offseason overhaul either, as S Chris Harris was traded to Chicago. Safeties Sherrod Martin and Charles Godfrey will team to form the Panthers' new last line of defense.
Battle to watch: The disappointing Dwayne Jarrett will get another chance to earn a starting spot at wide receiver opposite Steve Smith — assuming his broken arm has healed before the regular season — but he'll face a challenge from LaFell, who was selected in the third round.
Injury update: The Panthers expect Smith to recover from a broken arm he suffered in a June flag-football game before the regular season. It's the same arm he broke in December. Davis hasn't been placed on injured reserve yet, and Carolina will wait to see how he recovers before making a decision on whether to place him on the physically unable to perform list or I.R. Stewart is said to be progressing well from offseason surgery. The Panthers were cautious with him in practices during his first two seasons and it wouldn't be a surprise if they took a similar tack this season. OLT Jordan Gross took part in team drills in June and appears to be recovering well after breaking his leg in Week 10 last season.
Fantasy sleeper: Before Clausen replaces him as the starter, Moore might just continue doing what he did late last season — prove himself as a serviceable fantasy starter. In five starts at the end of the '09 campaign, Moore compiled a touchdown-interception ration of 8-2. He's a worth a flier late in drafts in deep leagues.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Training-camp site: Saints training facility, Metairie, La.
Training-camp report date: July 29.
Key veteran arrivals: DE Alex Brown, LB Clint Ingram, FB Jason McKie, DE Jimmy Wilkerson.
Key veteran departures: RB Mike Bell, OLB Scott Fujita, DE Charles Grant, OG Jamar Nesbit.
Drafted rookies: (1) CB Patrick Robinson; (2) OT Charles Brown; (3) TE Jimmy Graham; (4) DT Al Woods; (5) C Matt Tennant; (7) QB Sean Canfield.
Offensive overview: It would seem like there's nowhere to go but down for the Saints' offense, which has finished first in the league in three of the past four seasons, but this is still a highly talented group with a smart, aggressive mind in Sean Payton at the helm. There wasn't much turnover on offense in the offseason, and most roles in Payton's West Coast-hybrid system are clearly defined heading into training camp. QB Drew Brees is one of the most valuable players in the league and the passing game should be potent once again. Pierre Thomas returns as the team's top back and will share reps with RBs Reggie Bush and Lynell Hamilton. Jermon Bushrod, who started for almost the entire regular season and throughout the playoffs last season, is locked in as Brees' blind-side protector following the team's decision to trade OLT Jammal Brown to the Redskins. New Orleans' offensive line is considered one of the league's best.
Defensive overview: Coordinator Gregg Williams' aggressive, pressure-heavy system worked wonders in forcing takeaways in his first year on the job. He'll look to get similar results from a slightly different-looking unit in 2010. Gone are SLB Scott Fujita and DEs Charles Grant and Bobby McCray. The Saints didn't make any major free-agent signings, but did add some solid veterans, like DE Alex Brown and OLB Clint Ingram, who are expected to make major contributions. Malcolm Jenkins, the team's first-round pick in '09, has moved from cornerback to free safety and is being groomed as the eventual replacement for Darren Sharper, who returned on a one-year deal. Improving a run defense that ranked 21st in the league last season will be key for New Orleans.
Battle to watch: Ingram is hoping to be 100 percent healthy by the start of training camp, where he's expected to face a challenge from Jo-Lonn Dunbar, and perhaps others, for the starting spot at strong-side linebacker. Ingram underwent knee surgery in the offseason that reportedly included some microfracture techniques. Dunbar, who started on the strong side when Fujita missed time with an injury last season, is the most likely challenger, although the Saints have other young 'backers that could also get a chance at the job. The backup QB battle between Chase Daniel and Patrick Ramsey, who is expected to sign with the team later this month, also could be an intriguing one.
Injury update: Sharper, who tied for the league lead with nine interceptions in '09, will be on what Payton described as a "pitch count," in the early part of training camp as he returns from knee surgery. It's not yet clear when he'll be able to participate in full practices. Robert Meachem, who could challenge Devery Henderson for the role of No. 2 wide receiver, is coming off of toe surgery and the Saints will be cautious with him early in camp as well. The same goes for RB Heath Evans, who tore an ACL in Week Seven last season, and DE Jimmy Wilkerson, who tore his ACL in Week 15.
Fantasy sleeper: Lynell Hamilton is expected to back up Thomas as the featured back and will be asked to replace some of the production that Mike Bell, who signed with the Eagles, provided last season in short-yardage and goal-line situations. In deep leagues, Hamilton could be an intriguing piece at the end of the bench. His stock would rise significantly if Thomas were to miss time with an injury.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Training-camp site: One Buccaneer Place, Tampa, Fla.
Training-camp report date: July 30.
Key veteran arrivals: LB Jon Alston, WR Reggie Brown, S Sean Jones.
Key veteran departures: S Will Allen, FB B.J. Askew, P Josh Bidwell, WR Antonio Bryant, LB Angelo Crowell, CB Torrie Cox, DT Chris Hovan, P Dirk Johnson, QB Byron Leftwich, LB Matt McCoy, OG Arron Sears, DE Jimmy Wilkerson.
Drafted rookies: (1) DT Gerald McCoy; (2) DT Brian Price, WR Arrelious Benn; (3) CB Myron Lewis; (4) WR Mike Williams; (6) P Brent Bowden; (7) S Cody Grimm, OLB Dekoda Watson, DE Erik Lorig.
Offensive overview: The Buccaneers will return to a more traditional version of the West Coast offense in QB Josh Freeman's second season. Coordinator Greg Olson implemented a more aggressive deep passing element into the playbook last season, when QB Byron Leftwich opened the season as the starter, but Freeman will be focusing more on short and intermediate throws this time. The Bucs added a veteran, Reggie Brown, and two rookies, Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams, to bolster an unimpressive receiving corps, and there could be competition for the starting jobs in camp. TE Kellen Winslow could be Freeman's go-to target once again, if his surgically repaired knee holds up. Cadillac Williams and Derrick Ward, who is looking to redeem himself after a disappointing first season in Tampa, will share carries, and the offensive line returns without any significant personnel changes.
Defensive overview: Tampa Bay's defense improved after head coach Raheem Morris assumed coordinator duties and returned the team to it's old cover-2 zone around the middle of last season. A more complete and much better performance from the defense is expected, as Morris continues to run the "D." Tampa Bay spent its top two draft picks on DTs Gerald McCoy, who was selected third overall, and Brian Price. McCoy will start right away at the three-technique and Price will line up next to him at nose tackle. The Bucs' pass rush has been a major problem in recent years, and Morris is hoping McCoy and Price will help create pressure. Tampa Bay is set to return the same three starting linebackers from a year ago, including MLB Barrett Ruud, who has led the team in tackles in each of the past three seasons. CB Ronde Barber could be entering his final season with the team. The Bucs spent a third-round pick on CB Myron Lewis, and he should, at minimum, play in the nickel package.
Battle to watch: Sabby Piscitelli will get a chance to keep Sean Jones from taking his starting job at strong safety, but Jones is the clear favorite in the competition. The Bucs targeted competition for Piscitelli in free agency after he struggled in his first season as a starter and they landed Jones, a seventh-year veteran with starting experience.
Injury update: Winslow underwent the fifth surgery on his right knee since 2005 this offseason. He reportedly plans on being ready for the start of training camp, but recently admitted that knee pain is something he deals with every day. Benn missed time in offseason practices with an ankle injury, but he's expected to participate when camp opens.
Fantasy sleeper: Benn could be a player taken late in drafts who outproduces receivers taken ahead of him. He has a shot to become Freeman's top target, and his run-after-the-catch ability was one of the reasons the Bucs took him in the second round. We've seen several rookie receivers make an immediate impact in recent years, and Benn has the tools to do the same.
Other training-camp reports: NFC North | NFC East | AFC West | AFC South | AFC North | AFC East
You can learn even more about each team in the Volume XXV, Issue 6 print edition, with training-camp previews that address additional topics, such as juiciest story line, burning questions and fearless prediction for every team. The Issue 6 print edition is on sale at retail outlets, or you can buy a PDF or print copy online at PFWstore.com.