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As Atlanta Falcons Prepare For Season, NFC South Rivals Keep Pace

Championships aren't won in February; rather they are won in May, June, July and August. Well, the Falcons are not the only team with players participating in player-organized minicamp and practice this offseason. Already, several other NFL teams have begun holding unofficial team practices in preparation for the coming NFL season.

The practices themselves range from large team-wide practices of over 40 players to small groups of 10 players working out together, oftentimes organized by a team captain or star player. Thus far, the Falcons find themselves in the former group, with over 30 players showing up at informal 7-on-7 practices led by QB Matt Ryan on offense and LB Curtis Lofton on defense.

Let's take a look and see how the Falcons have stacked up against some of their division opponents.

Saints:  If this were an NFC South competition, the Saints would be winning. Saints players have been participating in an organized conditioning program held at Tulane University since as early as May 2 this offseason. The practices have been set up and led by none other than team captain Drew Brees, who has even covered staffing and insurance expenses, as well as lodging for some of the younger players. Clearly the Saints have shown a commitment to win this this offseason, and so far their level of organization and turnout has been quite impressive.

Buccaneers:  QB Josh Freeman has been organizing small, informal offensive practices at an undisclosed Tampa location, with a group of around 20 players turning out with regularity. There have been no large group defensive practices as of yet, though there has been talk between Freeman and CB Ronde Barber of organizing 7-on-7 drills similar to those held by the Falcons. Freeman has quickly established himself as a true force of leadership for a team that fielded the NFL's youngest one in 2010.

Panthers:  The Panthers have found themselves arriving to the party a little late. No player-organized practices have been held at this point, although informal, non-contact workouts are scheduled to begin next week in Charlotte. First overall draft pick Cam Newton is expected to attend the workout. For rookies, especially at the quarterback position, learning a new offense is a task that often takes time and lengthy offseason preparation with teammates. The later the Panthers start practicing, you can bet the tougher of a time Newton will have in 2011.

As we move from May to June, the Falcons should probably start looking at moving beyond the 7-on-7 practice and getting the linemen involved as well.

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Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.