New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) throws an interception on the first play from scrimmage in the first half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, in New Orleans, Sunday, Jan. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) throws an interception on the first play from scrimmage in the first half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, in New Orleans, Sunday, Jan. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)|Associated Press

NFC South Training Camp Schedules: Saints, Falcons, Panthers, Buccaneers – Additions, losses, needs, expectations

Falcons are first to camp, July 22.

Associated Press


OPEN CAMP: July 26, Metairie, Louisiana

LAST YEAR: 13th season with QB Drew Brees running coach Sean Payton's offense produced one of best in franchise history, albeit with bitter ending that spurred offseason rules changes. Saints' 13-3 regular-season record tied for franchise best with 2009 and 2011. Saints also came painstakingly close to second Super Bowl, only to have effort to put NFC title game away hampered by officials' non-call on pass interference or helmet-to-helmet contact on play that spurred league to allow coaches' challenges on pass interference. Los Angeles Rams won in overtime.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: TE Jared Cook, RB Latavius Murray, OLs Erik McCoy and Nick Easton, DE Mario Edwards, S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.

IMPORTANT LOSSES: C Max Unger, RB Mark Ingram, NT Tyeler Davison, DE Alex Okafor, TE Ben Watson.

CAMP NEEDS: Saints need to determine if top pick McCoy is ready to take over at center for Unger, or whether newly added veteran Easton is better option. Cook's arrival adds new facet to passing game that Saints will look to refine during camp. Rookie Gardner-Johnson aiming for regular role at nickel cornerback or rotating in with veteran safeties Vonn Bell and Marcus Williams. Saints also want progress from receivers other than Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn, seeking more consistency from second-year deep threat Tre'Quan Smith and hoping Cameron Meredith can shake lingering effects of 2017 knee injury that slowed him last season.

EXPECTATIONS: Saints return hungry as ever from last season's heartbreaking ending. With most key players back and some key additions, New Orleans opens as one of NFC's top contenders.



OPEN CAMP: July 22, Flowery Branch, Georgia

LAST YEAR: Atlanta closed season with three straight wins that came far too late to save lost season. Coach Dan Quinn didn't use crushing wave of injuries as excuse for disappointing season. Atlanta lost its starting safeties and guards, running back Devonta Freeman and linebacker Deion Jones to injuries. After firing all three coordinators, Quinn is facing pressure to take Falcons back to playoffs.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: OGs James Carpenter and Jamon Brown, DEs Chris Odom and Adrian Clayborn, Ss J.J. Wilcox, Chris Cooper, and Afolabi Laguda, DT Tyeler Davison, OT John Wetzel, RB Tony Brooks-James, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, tight ends coach Mike Mularkey.

IMPORTANT LOSSES: RB Tevin Coleman, CB Robert Alford, OT Ryan Schraeder, PK Matt Bryant, DE Brooks Reed and Derrick Shelby, OGs Brandon Fusco and Andy Levitre, offensive coordinator Steve Sarkasian, defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel, special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong.

CAMP NEEDS: Safeties Ricardo Allen (torn Achilles tendon) and Keanu Neal (knee), RB Freeman (groin) and LB Jones (foot) need to show they have recovered from 2018 injuries. Jones was watched carefully in minicamp even after coming off IR for end of last season. Rookies Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary will have every opportunity to form new right side of offensive line and prove they deserved to be first-round picks. Team needs to avoid possible distraction in efforts to reach agreement on new deal with WR Julio Jones.

EXPECTATIONS: Freeman's health is crucial to hopes for big season. Offense that includes receivers Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Calvin Ridley could be tough to stop. Quarterback Matt Ryan's 2018 numbers were very close to his 2016 MVP excellence, despite 42 sacks, second-highest total of his career. Ryan is 34, and if major offseason commitment to improving offensive line doesn't pay off, window to take advantage of his skills could soon close. Quinn has taken over defense as he aims for playoffs.



OPEN CAMP: July 25, Spartanburg, South Carolina

LAST YEAR: After 6-2 start, Carolina's season quickly spiraled out of control after 52-21 loss at Pittsburgh in nationally televised Thursday night game. It was start of seven-game slide that coincided with QB Cam Newton's right shoulder problems. 2015 league MVP could barely throw ball more than 20 yards downfield by end of season, and was held out of final two games before undergoing surgery. Offense became rather predictable down stretch with Newton unable to stretch field.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: DT Gerald McCoy, C Matt Paradis, DE Bruce Irvin, OLB Brian Burns, OT Greg Little, QB Will Grier, WRs Aldrick Robinson and Chris Hogan.

IMPORTANT LOSSES: DEs Julius Peppers and Wes Horton, C Ryan Kalil, LBs Thomas Davis and Ben Jacobs, WR Devin Funchess, CB Captain Munnerlyn, S Mike Adams, OL Amini Silatolu, LTs Chris Clark and LT Matt Kalil.

CAMP NEEDS: Carolina needs to find cohesiveness on offensive line with rookie LT Greg Little expected to protect Newton's blindside and veteran free agent C Matt Paradis replacing retired Ryan Kalil. Carolina will look to first-round draft pick OLB Brian Burns and veteran free agent DT Gerald McCoy to help develop pass rush. Carolina also needs to find reliable safety to pair with Eric Reid.

EXPECTATIONS: Panthers parted with number of long-time veterans, but still have plenty experience and lots of speedy, young talent led by RB Christian McCaffrey, one of game's top offensive weapons. Newton has two big-time playmakers in WRs D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel, and TE Greg Olsen looks to overcome foot injuries that have limited productivity in last two seasons. Aside from Newton's arm strength, biggest question marks are on defense. Coach Ron Rivera will resume play-calling duties on defense, and plans to work in some 3-4 looks to go along with team's traditional base 4-3 front. Rivera believes flexibility is needed against today's offenses.



OPEN CAMP: July 25, Tampa, Florida

LAST YEAR: Started 2-0 without Jameis Winston, who was serving suspension for violating NFL's personal conduct policy, but won just three of nine games young quarterback started rest of way to miss playoffs for 11th consecutive season. Led league in passing offense, but had one of NFL's worst rushing attacks and finished 12th in scoring. Worse, leaky defense had problems stopping run and pass while allowing 29 points per game, second most in league. Defensive coordinator Mike Smith was fired during season and coach Dirk Koetter was booted at its conclusion.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: LB Devin White and Shaquil Barrett, DL Ndamukong Suh, LB/S Deone Bucannon, P Bradley Pinion, WR Breshad Perriman, CBs Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean, S Mike Edwards, RB Andre Ellington, OL Earl Watford, K Matt Gay.

IMPORTANT LOSSES: DT Gerald McCoy, LB Kwan Alexander, WRs DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, DE Vinny Curry, CB Brent Grimes, RB Jacquizz Rodgers, P Bryan Anger.

CAMP NEEDS: Winston enters final year of contract he signed as No. 1 overall pick in 2015 draft. He's playing for his third head coach with Bruce Arians replacing Koetter. With salary of nearly $21 million, there's pressure on Winston to prove he's long-term answer at quarterback. He not only has to acclimate to new system in camp, but play well and win. Meanwhile, new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has installed 3-4 scheme, and there's emphasis on getting White, Murphy-Bunting, Dean and Edwards ready to contribute as rookies.

EXPECTATIONS: Tampa Bay hasn't made playoffs since 2007, second-longest drought in league. Arians, who retired after leading Arizona Cardinals from 2013-17, is fifth coach since Jon Gruden was fired in January 2009 to take crack at making Bucs relevant again. Hope is Arians' proven track record as QB guru will help Winston realize potential while also lifting team out of NFC South cellar.


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