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NFC South training camp preview: Four big questions

Around The League continues our training camp preview with a look at the NFC South. We already have asked questions on the AFC East, AFC North, AFC South and AFC West. (To hear our latest division previews in podcast form, just click into the sound file below or go right here.)

Will anyone emerge as a reliable target for Cam Newton?

Steve Smith should remain a legitimate playmaker, even as he enters his age-34 season. Greg Olsen is an underrated pass-catching tight end. But what else does Newton have to work with on the Carolina Panthers' offense? The wide receiver depth chart particularly is grim. After Smith, options include Brandon LaFell, Domenik Hixon and Ted Ginn Jr., who still believes he's just a man in need of an opportunity.

Eyebrows were raised when the Panthers used the front end of their draft to fortify their defensive line rather than help Newton. We'll find out if there was a method to the Panthers' madness.

Will Falcons lock up Matt Ryan?

From a big-picture standpoint, securing Ryan with a long-term contract should be a high priority for the Atlanta Falcons. The Baltimore Ravens learned the hard way that you can get burned by putting off a deal with your franchise quarterback. If Ryan leads the Falcons to a Super Bowl win in February, he'll command the highest price tag in football.

Lock Ryan up before that bittersweet hypothetical has the chance to play out.

Rob Ryan to the rescue?

The New Orleans Saints were historically bad on defense last season, the main factor in their failure to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in four years. Enter Rob Ryan, the new defensive coordinator asked to clean up Steve Spagnuolo's mess. It's not an easy task by any means, as Marc Sessler pointed out in our "Making the Leap" series.

The Saints don't have an overflow of talent on defense, and leaning on veteran players like Jonathan Vilma is risky. The loss of Victor Butler to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in June won't help.

On the flip side, Ryan can set himself up for that elusive head-coaching job if he can bring the Saints' defense back to a respectable level. That might be all it takes to get New Orleans back in the playoffs.

Can Mike Glennon make 'em think?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano says he believes in Josh Freeman. Schiano also says Freeman is the only starting quarterback on the Bucs' roster and that he expects him to have "a big year." The truth is, nobody knows if Freeman ever will be able to shake the inconsistencies that have kept his career earthbound.

Third-round draft pick Mike Glennon won't win the job out of camp. He knows that. The next best option is successfully planting a seed in Schiano's mind.

Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @DanHanzus.

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