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Julio Jones, Vic Beasley worth watching for Falcons

Training camp preview: The NFC South

During the Atlanta Falcons’ historic Super Bowl collapse, wide receiver Julio Jones made arguably the greatest sideline catch ever in a championship game. At the very least, the spectacular play in the fourth quarter was the signature moment of Jones’ career.

Well, until his next one.

The superstar figures to have many more eye-opening receptions before he’s done playing. In the 2016 postseason, Jones averaged more than 100 yards receiving per game (with a 17.6-yard average per catch). Jones is coming off consecutive seasons in which he was selected first-team All-Pro. Bottom line: Jones is as good as it gets.

We look at the NFC South heading into training camp, in predicted order of finish this season.

Atlanta Falcons

Training camp location: Falcons Training Facility, Flowery Branch, Georgia

Report dates: Rookies and veterans, July 26

Look out for this guy: Outside linebacker Vic Beasley took a big step forward in his second season, increasing his sack total from four as a rookie to 15½. No other Falcons player had more than 4½. If Beasley had more help to chase Tom Brady, perhaps the Falcons would have won the Super Bowl. Falcons management noticed, giving up two draft picks to move up in the first round and select UCLA defensive end Takkarist McKinley.

Camp watch: McKinley underwent shoulder surgery after the combine. He’s not expected to be at full strength to open camp and could be sidelined to start the regular season. But once McKinley is ready, the Falcons believe he’ll make a big impact opposite Beasley.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Training camp location: One Buccaneer Place, Tampa, Florida

Report dates: Rookies, July 25; veterans, July 27

Look out for this guy: By signing DeSean Jackson, the Buccaneers made a major investment in quarterback Jameis Winston. Bottom line, Tampa Bay needed to upgrade its receiving corps to help the young franchise passer. Even entering his 10th season, the still-speedy Jackson is among the league’s elite stretch-the-defense wideouts.

Camp watch: Rookie tight end O.J. Howard should be another major addition to Tampa Bay’s offense. How long will it take the former Alabama star to adjust to the NFL? Who knows? But assuming he does, the Bucs’ receiving corps will be loaded.

Carolina Panthers

Training camp location: Wofford College, Spartanburg, South Carolina

Report dates: Rookies and veterans, July 25

Look out for this guy: Christian McCaffrey is the first white tailback drafted in the first round since Penn State’s John Cappelletti went 11th overall to the Los Angeles Rams in 1974. The versatile back could wind up being the steal of the draft. The Panthers plan to use him all over the field. Quarterback Cam Newton should be happy.

Camp watch: Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin has been under the microscope this offseason because of his weight issues. And after sitting out all of 2015 because of a torn ACL, Benjamin wasn’t as effective last season as he was in his 2014 rookie year. That’s not surprising, considering he was trying to regain form after a major injury, but he has a lot to prove.

New Orleans Saints

Training camp site: New Orleans Saints Training Facility, Metairie, Louisiana.

Report dates: Rookies, July 19; veterans, July 26

Look out for this guy: Obviously, the Saints’ signing of superstar running back Adrian Peterson was big news. Peterson, 32, is a three-time rushing champion and perennial All-Pro performer. But how much does Peterson, who’s beginning his 11th season, have left? The Minnesota Vikings released Peterson after he played in only three games last season.

Camp watch: Running back Mark Ingram is coming off his best season. He topped 1,000 yards rushing for the first time and was a consistent force in the Saints’ offense. So how’s this supposed to work with him and Peterson in the same backfield? That’s why there’s training camp.


Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at Andscape. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.