All four NFC South teams will take the practice field for the first time Tuesday with the start of organized team activities. Only selected practice sessions are open to the media, but each team will open at least one practice this week.
Last Friday, our NFC South roundtable broke down the most compelling position battles to watch on each roster. Today, NFL Nation reporters Vaughn McClure (Atlanta Falcons), David Newton (Carolina Panthers), Mike Triplett (New Orleans Saints) and Pat Yasinskas (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) identify which players they're most looking forward to seeing in action:
McClure: I'm curious to see how Falcons cornerback Robert Alford looks coming off a broken wrist that limited him to 10 games in 2014-15. Coach Dan Quinn told me he discussed moving Alford to free safety but changed his mind after watching Alford compete outside at corner. Quinn's statement made me wonder if Alford will remain outside despite thoughts of him being the ideal nickelback. He's not as tall (5-foot-10) as Quinn typically likes his corners to be, but Alford is a tough competitor and has great speed and athleticism. Not to mention, second-round pick Jalen Collins, a candidate to play outside, will be behind schedule coming off foot surgery. Since the media will be allowed to view the entire practice Tuesday, it will be interesting to see how Alford does in one-on-one drills against the receivers. A big emphasis for him this offseason is improving his handwork and technique.
Newton: This is easy: quarterback Cam Newton. Not because there are any questions about what he can do. I'm looking forward to seeing how he performs after an upgrade at receiver with the addition of second-round pick Devin Funchess and free agent Ted Ginn Jr. I'm looking forward to seeing if the chemistry Newton developed with 2014 first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin, who has been rehabbing a hamstring injury, and tight end Greg Olsen becomes evident immediately with his new weapons. I'm looking forward to seeing what offensive coordinator Mike Shula does with Newton now that he has new toys, not just at receiver but at running back with draft pick Cameron Artis-Payne. The Panthers are far from getting into their game plan for 2015, but there is the potential for a more versatile, wide-open offense with Newton being the centerpiece running and passing. The fact that Newton didn't participate in offseason workouts last year after undergoing ankle surgery increases the anticipation to see what he does to take his game to the next level.
Triplett: The Saints have about a dozen newcomers worth watching after revamping their roster, but the guy I'm most intrigued by is last year's most compelling newcomer -- safety Jairus Byrd. The three-time Pro Bowler is getting a much-needed do-over after a disappointing, injury-plagued debut in New Orleans. Byrd, 28, didn't participate in OTAs last year because of back surgery. Then he struggled along with the rest of the Saints' defense for four regular-season games before suffering a season-ending knee injury in practice. Now back healthy, Byrd still has a chance to be the kind of game-changer New Orleans expected when it signed him to a six-year, $54 million contract. He's a ball hawk who had 22 interceptions and 11 forced fumbles in his first five seasons with the Buffalo Bills. Byrd looked lost last season -- but so did the entire defense, which was plagued by blown assignments in the secondary and missed tackles everywhere. An improved defense overall -- and a full offseason to develop chemistry -- should give Byrd a chance to thrive.
Yasinskas: The player I'm most eager to see should come as no surprise. That's Jameis Winston, the first player taken in the draft and one of the most scrutinized players in the league. I saw him a few weeks back at rookie camp, but it was tough to get a read on him. He was working with other rookies, without a defense and with very little knowledge of the playbook. In that rookie camp, Winston looked good at times and like a rookie at others. But he has had a few weeks to learn the playbook and he'll be working with the veterans. I wouldn't be surprised if the Bucs open with Mike Glennon as the first-team quarterback. Glennon has had a few more weeks in coordinator Dirk Koetter's playbook. But the reality is that Winston is going to be the starter on opening day. The sooner the Bucs get him working with first-team receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans, the better.