The NFC South houses the reigning Superbowl champions; Tom Brady’ Bucs brought the band back together for another tilt at a championship. Elsewhere, the New Orleans Saints enter a new era without future Hall of Famer Drew Brees; the Falcons embrace the Arthur Smith method and year two for Carolina under Matt Rhule. There are plenty of storylines within the NFC South; 2021 promises another exciting year of football in the division. With the early stages of training camp underway, it is worth analyzing some key training camp battles for all four teams in the NFC South.
New Orleans Saints – Taysom Hill vs Jameis Winston
There is only one positional battle worth talking about in New Orleans. Here at NFL Sapient, we’ve already previewed the Taysom Hill vs. Jameis Winston battle. Now that the early days of camp have taken place, there are a few updates regarding the most crucial quarterback battle this preseason. Taysom Hill has primarily led the first-team offense, while Winston’s work’s been with the second-teamers. Yesterday, Hill landed 5/6 of his passes, including a strike over the middle to Marquez Callaway on a dig route. Winston also hit on 5/6 of his passes; the former Buccaneer displayed the velocity as his throws had real zip on them. Rumour surrounding the Saints camp is that the two signal-callers may rotate with the ones and two’s. The situation is still unclear, and the job is up for grabs. This NFC South positional battle will run and run.
Carolina Panthers – Open Season for Left Tackle Spot?
With Russell Okung still a free agent, the left tackle position could get won by anyone. Offseason acquisition Cam Erving is the expected frontrunner. However, Erving missed out on the OTA and minicamp period due to some nagging injuries. Erving only started five games for a depleted Cowboys team last season; he may not inspire confidence. Greg Little and Trent Scott could come into the equation if Erving’s struggles continue. Either way, the blindside protection for Sam Darnold will be questionable. Some members of the NFL cognoscenti felt Brady Christensen might slide into a left tackle in the immediate aftermath of the draft. Instead, the Panthers are trying him out at right tackle. It is a tough decision for Matt Rhule; this battle is akin to three bald men fighting over a comb. Nonetheless, it is essential. For Darnold to become a top quarterback, Carolina must protect him.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Backup Qb – Blaine Gabbert vs Kyle Trask
The Bucs are in such a strong position roster-wise that it is hard to pinpoint where the competition lies. Perhaps then, it is worth casting an eye on who might get cast as Tom Brady’s stuntman. Blaine Gabbert is a stalwart backup; he understands the role and his limitations. He and Brady enjoy a healthy relationship; moreover, they boast tons of experience. On the other hand, the Bucs drafted Florida quarterback Kyle Trask in the third round. Trask experienced some Heisman hype in the early phase of last year, although more of that was down to his weapons. Trask is a largely immobile, average-arm throwing quarterback with decent accuracy. Stylistically, he is in the mold of Brady. Trask is a pocket passer with solid game management instincts. With Brady’s seemingly endless career continuing, Trask can force Tampa’s hand if he comes in and beats Gabbert. The preseason games will reveal a lot about who rides the pine behind Brady in Florida.
Atlanta Falcons – Jalen Mayfield vs Josh Andrews
Per Football Outsiders, Matt Ryan has suffered 89 sacks in the last two seasons. That is an extraordinarily high number for a veteran quarterback to suffer. Consequently, it surprised no one that Terry Fontenot drafted Michigan’s, Jalen Mayfield. The Falcons staff are looking at moving Mayfield from right tackle to left guard. Stalwart Josh Andrews is the favorite if the season started tomorrow; he took almost all the reps during OTAs and is working with the ones in training camp. However, Mayfield is the better athlete. His stocky build, power to push pads, and aggressive streak make him an ideal run-blocker. While there are certain sloppy elements within his passing sets, he sometimes lacks speed; some of the bigger NFL interior linemen could run over him.
Nevertheless, he is enjoying a solid training camp. Head coach Arthur Smith is impressed by Mayfield’s versatility, “It depends on the health of our team. Is he going to earn that spot out there at right tackle? If not, we have to make the right decision for him. We don’t want to stunt his growth, too. If he’s not going to play right tackle, he has to be able to play inside. He has to be able to play multiple spots.” Lastly, Atlanta’s blown-block percentage was 14%, which placed them 22nd in the NFL. That is not a healthy statistic for a team that wishes to run the ball. Mayfield can rectify that, although he must continue to excel in training camp.
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