NFC South Camp Battles

From the SportsXchange, here are the top position battles around the NFC South as of Aug. 22:

ATLANTA

BATTLE OF THE WEEK

Jerious Norwood vs. Warrick Dunn

Dunn hadn't practiced in training camp while recuperating from back surgery until last week, and he is expected to be cleared to play in Aug. 27 (Monday night) against the visiting Bengals. Norwood, meanwhile, has been the clear starter all of training camp but he suffered a stomach infection last week that kept him out of practice for much of the week and sidelined him for Friday's game at Buffalo. Norwood hasn't had much competition from Dunn all offseason -- Dunn had shoulder surgery that kept him out of most offseason camps and OTAs -- so this will be his first time being challenged. How he stands up to a highly motivated Dunn could determine whether he keeps his role as the starter or the seemingly ageless Dun (32) resumes the spot he's held over the past few seasons.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS

DT Trey Lewis vs. Tommy Jackson and Darrell Shropshire

Jackson and Shropshire have spent most of the offseason jockeying to see who would be the main player rotating with starter Grady Jackson. They are being pressed big time by the rookie Lewis, who has shown more stoutness at the point of attack and athleticism than either of them. Shropshire could really be on the bubble because coaches have been using Tommy Jackson more frequently.

FS Chris Crocker vs. FS Jimmy Williams

After a slow start, Williams came on like gangbusters last week. He had a solid run of practices then stood out against the Bills after having a tough go of things in the preseason opener against the Jets. Williams had four tackles, a sack and a quarterback hurry and he was far better in coverage. Crocker hasn't shown any flaws but the coaching staff eventually wants Williams on the field and he is finally showing signs that he might be ready.

RB Jason Snelling vs. potential free-agent acquisitions

The coaching and personnel staffs entered training camp with the expectation that Snelling likely would be a developmental player and a practice-squad candidate. They would wait until the first round of cuts to find their No. 3 tailback, who most likely would be a veteran. Well, Snelling has given them no reason to go shopping. The rookie has shown toughness, smarts and decent speed for a combination back drafted in the seventh round.

CAROLINA

BATTLE OF THE WEEK

Geoff Hangartner vs. Ryan Kalil for a starting O-line spot

Kalil is out as the temporary starting center and Hangartner is in as the starting right guard. Justin Hartwig moved back to center. The Panthers are shifting because Jeremy Bridges will miss the first two games because of a suspension.

EXPECTED BATTLE OF THE WEEK

Deke Cooper vs. Nate Salley for starting FS job

Cooper is still working with the first team, but Salley's knee is getting better and he may steal some reps this week.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS

Jon Beason vs. Na'il Diggs for starting WLB spot

Diggs is back on the shelf for a few days and that means Beason is with the starters again. This time, expect him to stay there.

NEW ORLEANS

BATTLE OF THE WEEK

Steve Weatherford vs. Chris Hanson for starting punter job

While coach Sean Payton continues to characterize this one as close, Weatherford, the incumbent, appears to have the upper hand. He has punted 10 times for a 48.5-yard average with a net of 42.7. He has also dropped three punts inside the 20. Hanson has averaged 42.3 yards a kick with a net of 40.5.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS

Mark Campbell vs. Eric Johnson for starting TE spot

After three exhibition games, this one appears to be pretty even with both players taking turns starting in games. Campbell usually works with the first-team offense in practice although Johnson has gotten some some reps with the starting unit as well. Johnson has two catches for 16 yards; Campbell has one for eight in the three games.

Jason Craft vs. Fred Thomas for nickel CB spot

Craft has been the nickel cornerback for a couple of years, but he and Thomas are vying for that job now that Jason David, one of the Saints' top offseason acquisitions, has taken over the starting job from Thomas at right corner.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

BATTLE OF THE WEEK

Luke McCown still probably has a hold on the backup quarterback position. However, Bruce Gradkowski gained some ground. McCown struggled early against Jacksonville and was victimized by two fumbles in the red zone. He went 9 of 13 for 66 yards and was the Bucs' leading rusher with 37 yards.

Gradkowski started by connecting with Mark Jones on a 53-yard touchdown pass. He then drove the Bucs 48-yards in 8 plays, a march capped by Kenneth Darby's 1-yard touchdown run.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS

Matt Lehr started at center but did nothing to put the fear into starter John Wade. The Bucs had trouble with several quarterback/center exchanges, including once in the shotgun. Dan Buenning still is not fully recovered from a knee injury, so look for Wade to retain his role.


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