It’s Training Camp season in the NFL, and I’m currently writing this article in the best shape of my life! I’ve got my fingers on the pulse of the NFC South, and below I have all relevant information that’s come out of each team’s camp. I’ll make this introduction short—below are the key takeaways and important roster news from each team in the NFC South. We’ll kick things off with the Atlanta Falcons!
Atlanta Falcons – Super Mariota’s Team for Now
On the QB position
Desmond Ridder has made a handful of good throws, but Marcus Mariota is QB1, and it is unquestioned amongst the team. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Ridder gets playing time in the season, but this is Mariota’s team. Also, former third string quarterback Feleipe Franks is moving to tight end. While Franks obviously isn’t Kyle Pitts, he has left reporters and coaches with a good impression.
On the RB committee
Cordarrelle Patterson is the top back, but Tyler Allgeier, Qadree Ollison, Caleb Huntley, and former defensive back Avery Williams took first team practice snaps. Patterson is the key cog, but the coaching staff is keeping an open competition for all other backs to earn opportunities this season.
One final thought: We need to start taking Avery Williams seriously as a receiving threat. He is getting a ton of targets and consistently making the most out of them. I think Arthur Smith will find a way to get him on the field in creative ways. #Falcons
— Kevin Knight (@FalcoholicKevin) August 3, 2022
After looking over all reports I could get my hands on, the coaches were most complementary of Avery Williams as a pass catching back. Keep a watchful eye out for him floating around your waiver wire in deep dynasty leagues.
Offensive Line Shuffle
Elijah Wilkinson was brought over from the Chicago Bears in the offseason, and he has regularly started in padded practices over last year’s starting left guard Jalen Mayfield who gave up a team-leading 11 sacks in 2021. Mayfield may end up backing up Wilkinson while the offensive line continues to search for the right combination. The team has also rotated the Center position between Drew Dalman and Matt Hennessey.
Defensive Line Shuffle
The team signed Eddie Goldman only to have him retire before camp. To make matters worse, newly signed Vincent Taylor suffered an achilles injury. This puts him out for the year. Fortunately, UDFA Derrick Tangelo strung together impressive strong camp days, and the coaches are impressed. He will be one to watch along the defensive line for the Falcons.
One Key Note
Kyle Pitts. I know, it’s not breaking news, but he has regularly made great play after great play, and it will be a pleasure to watch him play his sophomore season. He has impressed everyone.
Carolina Panthers – QB Competition to Rhule them all
Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield have gone head-to-head. Both are splitting time with the first team offense, and the coaching staff has not declared a winner. In fact, Matt Rhule has stated that he will not declare the starter until after the August 19th preseason game against the New England Patriots. Both quarterbacks have had good moments and not-so-good moments in practice. At this time, the current clubhouse leader for the starting position is Mayfield.
John Ellis on Twitter: “Baker Mayfield is leading right now, if you’re asking me. And it’s a little bit ridiculous that it even needs to be addressed on Aug 5, but as long as we’re doing this deal, Baker is doing more with his reps: aggressive, resourceful, better command, and still learning the O.” / Twitter
Backup Running Back Battle
D’Onta Foreman was signed as a free agent after stringing together successful games when Derrick Henry went down. There was buzz that perhaps he could push Chuba Hubbard for the No. 2 role. That buzz has been effectively squashed as both Rhule and starting running back Christian McCaffrey have heaped praise on Hubbard. They specifically praised his work in the passing game and with protections.
Starting Left Tackle
Coach Rhule has stated that first round selection Ikem Ekwonu needs to earn his position. Ekwonu has gotten work with the first team. It’s perplexing the Panthers elected not to give him every snap with the first team, so he could gel with the starters and get adjusted to a defensive line of NFL starters. There are no signs of him remaining on the second string when the regular season rolls around.
One Key Note
During camp, the team announced they have waived long snapper Thomas Fletcher who was a sixth round selection from Alabama. Why am I pointing this out? Who cares about a long snapper?! The team waived him because they will rely on J.J. Jansen as the long snapper for the team who has been the long snapper of the Panthers since 2009. The Panthers’ regime has made questionable decisions. Taking a long snapper with a sixth round pick when you already have an entrenched starter at the position looks a lot like a wasted draft pick.
New Orleans Saints – Not exactly acting saintly?
Trevor Penning Suspension
The No. 19 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft is currently competing for the starting left tackle spot. Penning made headlines when he was suspended following his third fight in practice. However, if you listen to the answer below from Offensive Assistant Coach Zach Strief, you can tell that Penning isn’t looking for a fight on every down. He’s a competitor who will be looking to finish on every single play. He does need to clean up his technique, and that will come with coaching and reps.
Brooke Kirchhofer on Twitter: “Really insightful stuff from #Saints offensive line assistant coach Zach Strief about how the coaches are managing OT Trevor Penning in his first camp. @WWLTV https://t.co/hTNhs5Ls9D” / Twitter
Michael Thomas Update
He is back, and the reports have been glowing. He’s cutting against defenders, in pads, wearing cleats, running the full route tree. We have yet to see him play a game with Jameis Winston, but Winston has supported productive receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin when he played in Tampa Bay. The last time Thomas played a football game was in January of 2020—over 900 days ago—and everyone is glad to have him back and running.
Jameis Winston Injury Update
An important update for the team: there have been no limitations on Jameis Winston and his return to the QB1 position after his ACL injury in 2021. He played conservatively before being injured. It will be interesting to see if the coaching staff continues to have him approach quarterbacking with a game manager approach.
One Key Note
The MVP of camp has been defensive back Paulson Adebo. That’s coming from multiple beat reports. He’s shown brilliant play against Chris Olave, Jarvis Landry, and has held up admirably against Michael Thomas. With the addition of Tyrann Mathieu, along with Adebo’s development, it appears the Saints have the most talented secondary in the NFL.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – The Offensive Line Loses It’s Anchor
The Ryan Jensen Injury
Early in camp, Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen suffered a devastating knee injury and is expected to be out for months. Many people outside of the organization were surprised that they didn’t rush to pick up free agent J.C. Tretter, but the team is high on backup Robert Hainsey. They have also mixed in third string center Nick Leverett, and the team seems content on allowing these backups to contribute to the offensive line.
Chris Godwin’s Early Return
In week 15 of the 2021 season, we saw Chris Godwin leave the field after tearing his ACL and spraining his MCL. When the Bucs signed Russell Gage, it seemed they were sending out a signal there was no need for Godwin to rush back to the team.
However, Godwin has been doing individual drills and has avoided the PUP list. This is a sign he will be ready earlier than expected. Tampa has outstanding wide receivers, and they can afford to hold him out, or manage his reps in game, as he gets back to full health.
The Running Backs
A report came out in July saying the coaching staff was displeased with Leonard Fournette‘s weight gain during the offseason. Both the coaching staff and Fournette are happy with his current weight, so we can all officially move on. And while we are on the subject of the backfield, a source of glowing reports and coaches’ complements has been rookie running back Rachaad White. White left a positive impression on his teammates and coaches. He looks destined to be the No. 2 running back in the offense.
Setting The Edge
Second year outside linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka put together a great camp. With the departure of Jason Pierre-Paul, we can expect to see much more of Tryon-Shoyinka during the regular season. Also, former Dallas Cowboy and Atlanta Falcon Keanu Neal is projected to be the starting strong safety on the defense. The defense lost starters among the defensive line, linebackers, and secondary, but Neal, Tryon-Shoyinka, and Akiem Hicks look ready to fill those gaps.
One Key Note
This team is sparing no expense to go back to the Super Bowl. This was most evident when they signed Julio Jones to a one-year deal. When healthy, he can be a top-ten receiver. This wide receiver core is deep and talented, so he doesn’t have to be forced on the field every play. It is a win-win for both sides. Also, the addition of Kyle Rudolph gives a more proven tight end for Brady to throw to instead of the unknown with rookie Cade Otton and unproven Cameron Brate. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are all in for 2022.