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NFC South Training Camp Preview: 3 things to watch

Around The League's Training Camp Preview series will identify three things to watch for the teams in each division this summer. We also previewed every AFC team's camp in our latest podcast.

Atlanta Falcons


1. All eyes will be on Julio Jones when training camp opens. The top-five receiver didn't participate in football activities during minicamp season as he recovered from last year's foot surgery. He recently declared that he was "back to the old Julio."

2. Fourth-round pick Devonta Freeman will be a rookie to watch next month. The running back has a chance to challenge Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers for a serious role in a backfield that needed more juice last season.

3. The Falcons have to figure out who will replace injured Sean Weatherspoon in the starting lineup. And then they have to figure out two more starting linebacker jobs. Second-year players Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu, along with four rookies at the position, will by vying for snaps. Worrilow and Bartu were quietly effective last year. 

Carolina Panthers


1. Some of the long-running questions at wide receiver will finally be answered in Carolina. Barring a last-minute trade for someone like Andre Johnson, the Panthers need to find out if rookie first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin can contribute right away. Jerricho Cotchery is the team's nominal No. 1 receiver, with Jason Avant, Tiquan Underwood and others in the mix for snaps. In short: Cam Newton is fighting an uphill battle.

2. Oh, by the way: Newton is recovering from ankle surgery. He participated in minicamps in a limited fashion, but it's worth watching whether his movement skills are compromised in any way. With two new offensive line starters and the receiver crew mentioned above, he might have to run even more this year.

3. The Panthers will be watching the legal news concerning defensive end Greg Hardy closely. He has appealed his recent guilty verdict for communicating threats and assaulting a female. It's possible Hardy's appeal trial won't happen until after the 2014 season.

New Orleans


1. The Saints usually don't have a lot of turnover on their roster. This year is an exception. All eyes will be on the secondary, where big ticket free agents Jairus Byrd and Champ Bailey try to show they are healthy enough to come into the regular season swinging. Byrd is coming off back surgery, and Bailey struggled to stay healthy all last year.

2. There are plenty of changes on the Saints offense, too. With Lance Moore and Devery Henderson gone, New Orleans is looking for a youth movement to emerge at wide receiver. Rookie Brandin Cooks will try to get up to speed on the complex Sean Payton offense quickly. His aptitude in August will help determine his usage early in the season. It's not an easy offense to learn.

3. Training camp should give us a better feel for the Saints' running back rotation. Pierre Thomas figures to have his usual role, so we're watching closer to see whether Khiry Robinson or Mark Ingram emerges as the Saints' top option for early downs. When you just watch the tape, Robinson looks like the first-round pick.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers


1. Offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford is one of the biggest X-factors in the NFL this year. We'll get some early indications in training camp about what type of offense he wants to run in Tampa. There are certainly weapons in place with Vincent Jackson, Doug Martin and first-round pick Mike Evans.

2. We'll be watching to see how the Buccaneers handle backup quarterback Mike Glennon in camp. If he performs well, will there be any chance to displace Josh McCown with a monster preseason?

3. The Buccaneers have a remarkably settled roster for a team that only won four games last year. The defense is loaded and there aren't many starting jobs up for grabs. The backup running back and wide receiver situations still have to be worked out.

The latest "Around The League Podcast" invites Bucky Brooks in-studio for a team-by-team AFC training camp preview.

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