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Steve Geller

"WWL First News" Sports Anchor
Weekdays 5am-10am

"Sports Talk" Producer
Weekdays 4pm-8pm

Twitter: @stevegellerWWL
Email: steve@wwl.com

Steve: Colston mentoring young Saints, things heating up

Much was made over the “down” year Marques Colston had a year ago.  It was only the 2nd time in his career he did not record 1,000 yards or more receiving, though the “Quiet Storm” did start to turn it up toward the end of the season though the playoffs.

He has said that a nagging foot injury is finally behind him, so #12 could be in store for a very productive season.

“It’s a totally different experience for me”, said Colston.  “Just being able to really rest and come into the season healthy.  It’s a totally different ballgame.”

Colston is also the elder statesman on the team now, as he enters his 9th NFL season.  

“It’s kind of a funny position to be in for me”, said Colston.  “But these young guys have come in and really absorbed the offense pretty well. They’re always looking to get better, so they ask a ton of questions and I’m glad to answer them.  I’m really enjoying watching these guys come to work and be professionals.”

The temperature may not be so intense in West Virginia, but the competition sure is. Saints players were getting after it today as the team looked hyped up after having yesterday off.
Defensive end Cam Jordan explained later what transpired between him and rookie Tavon Rooks.

“He was wearing a white jersey at the time, and just got in the way”, said Jordan. “I was just trying to make him better.  He’s part of the team and part of that is just teaching him.  It’s all about lessons.”

Big left tackle Terron Armstead is entering his 2nd season in the NFL and as the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert told me, “looks like a man-chld” out there.
“Coming off that day off, we wanted to speed up the temp, so we got after it a little bit”, Armstead said. "Camp has been very productive for me. I worked on my technique, I learned a lot over the offseason. I think I have a pretty good 4 practices in pads.”  

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Steve: Saints rookie profiles - Steve Hull

This undrafted defensive back turned wide receiver was signed by the Saints after a tryout during the team’s rookie minicamp.  After three injury-filled seasons at safety, Steve Hull enjoyed a breakout season at receiver for the University of Illinois during his senior campaign.

The 6-foot-2, 200 pounder actually led the nation with 46 catches for 712 receiving yards during the last five games of 2013.

Hull finished the year with 59 catches for 993 yards and seven touchdowns. He averaged 16.8 yards per catch during his final season, and also contributed on special teams. 

The WR position is stocked with a ton of talent, so special teams is likely Hull’s best bet at making the roster. You have Nick Toon, Robert Meachem, Joe Morgan, Seantavoius Jones, Brandon Coleman, Charles Hawkins, and Andy Tanner all fighting for one of those coveted receiver spots.

Hull had very solid 4.54 40-yard dash time at the Illini’s pro day.   He also registered a vertical jump of 36 1/2 inches and a 122-inch broad jump.

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Steve: Saints rookie profiles - Seantavius Jones

At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds this 21-year-old undrafted rookie free agent has good size with room to bulk up. Seantavius Jones began to turn heads during Saints OTAs and minicamp and hasn’t let that interest wane, with a strong start to training camp.

The wide receiver had a solid Pro Day at Valdosta State, posting a 38 ½ inch vertical jump and a 6.96 second three cone drill time.  So with his size and talent, why wasn’t Jones selected in this year’s NFL draft?

“He had an injury that limited his production his last year compared to his junior year,” Coach Sean Payton said.  “He’s a player that might have been drafted had he not had the injury that set him back a little bit in his final year.  I like his size. We have a couple of those young receivers that are long and they give you a good throwing radius.”

Jones helped lead the Valdosta State Blazers to the NCAA Division II National Championship, and finished his college career with 149 receptions for 2,374 yards and 33 touchdowns.  He received first team All-Gulf South player honors in his senior year and even caught six touchdown passes in one game against Delta State. 

We’ve seen plenty of undrafted rookies make this team in the past, and I feel Jones has a great shot to be another. Sure, he played ball at a small school where the competition wasn’t elite, but that didn’t stop a kid from Mississippi Valley State from becoming the greatest receiver in NFL history.  No, I’m not comparing Jones to Jerry Rice, just emphasizing the fact you don’t have to be from a big college to make a big impact in the pros. He is one of the players I am anxious to see more of when preseason action starts for the Saints, August 8th in St Louis.

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Steve: Saints rookie profiles - Derrick Strozier

This former Tulane defensive back got an invite to training camp after working out for the Saints at rookie minicamp. While he played defense for the Green Wave, he is working out as a running back for the Black and Gold.
He didn’t see much time on offense while at Tulane, with just 4 rushes for 12 yards and 11 receptions for 60 yards.  As a special teamer, Strozier returned 28 punts for 268 yards and 13 kickoffs for 258 yards while blocking a pair of kicks and returning a blocked field goal for a score.

Meanwhile on the defensive side of the ball, he racked up 101 tackles, 5.5 of which were for a loss, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, 18 pass break-ups and five interceptions; including two that were returned for touchdowns.

He stands just 5-foot-7, 180 pounds, but sure packs a ton of football ability into that small body.  A natural comparison is to former Saints RB Darren Sproles because of size, but Strozier also has that same elusive ability.  It’s not easy to tackle this kid and he also has great balance. He plays big and isn’t afraid of contact. 

Obviously a big question - can his body withstand the pounding of the NFL when he does take a lick?

Versatility is the key with Strozier as he could be the Saints Swiss Army knife, kind of like a Dexter McCluster. 

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Steve: Saints rookie profiles - Khairi Fortt

When talking about the Saints 2014 draft class, it seems to me as if Fortt’s name is often absent from the conversation. Folks are obviously excited about 1st-round pick Brandin Cooks and 2nd-rounder Stanley Jean-Baptiste. The potential of 5th round outside linebacker Ronald Powell comes up, since he is a former top high school recruit in the nation. The Black & Gold’s other 5th round pick Vinnie Sunseri’s name is whispered since he played for Nick Saban at Alabama, and there’s excitement about the safeties’ potential on specials teams.  

But as far 4th round selection Khairi Fortt… nadda. Why no love or interest in the linebacker?
He has experience in 3-4 and 4-3 alignments and that versatility could be very beneficial in d-coordinator Rob Ryan’s scheme.

Fortt is also blessed with natural tools.  He’s got the size at 6-foot-2, 248 pounds. He’s got the strength, registering 30 reps of 225 pounds, a best amongst linebackers at the NFL combine. He managed a 4.70 in the 40-yard dash, but really has field speed and seems to move like a safety; very athletic and agile.

Durability is the big question.  He missed the last three games of the 2013 season with a bicep injury. A year earlier, Fortt was redshirted due to knee surgery after transferring to Cal from Penn State.

The Saints obviously feel his talent is worth the “risk” or they wouldn’t have grabbed him in round 4.  The hope is that he can develop into a replacement for Curtis Lofton or David Hawthorne as one of the Black & Gold’s ILBs.

At worst, Fortt should improve the special teams unit, but the combination of his upside in the hands of Coach Ryan could result in a bigger rookie impact.

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Steve: The Byrdman is back!

The big news from Saints camp today was the return of safety Jairus Byrd from the physically unable to perform list. It was the first time anyone has seen him run drills with the team, as he missed all of organized team activities and minicamp after having back surgery.
“I’m glad we did the procedure when we did, rather than try and get through the season in a maintenance mode,” Coach Sean Payton said.  “I know he feels better, and yet we still got to be smart here.  We’ve got a lot of time and a lot of things that we’ve got to do.  And a lot of things he has to be able to catch up on.  But he’s a quick stud, he been attentive in all the meetings.  It’s good having him out here.”

Byrd was limited and didn’t participate in every drill, which is to be expected for his first day back.  He didn’t want to get into any details about the exact procedure that was done, but it happy to back with his new team. “It’s hard, anytime you see those guys putting in that work out there that’s where I want to be,” Byrd said.  “I’m just thankful that I get to be out there today, you appreciate the little things a lot more when you can’t do them.” 

Fellow safety Rafael Bush is glad to have Byrd back in the secondary mix. Bush doesn’t think it will take long for him to get up to speed. “He’s a smart player, I don’t think it will take to much of his time,” said Bush. “He’s in the meeting room; he’s studying, and asking me and Kenny (Vaccaro) questions.  I think once he gets out there, he's just going to hit the ground running, so were excited!”
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Steve: Peyton Manning shows off dance moves at Broncos camp

When I saw this, I just had to take a break from our 24-7 Saints training camp coverage to share it. Watch out Mick Jagger, Maroon 5 next’s hit may be about Broncos QB Peyton Manning’s moves. 

Ok, maybe not.  The former Tennessee Vol showed off his dance floor stylins'’ at Denver’s training camp today when they played “Rocky Top” during the stretch period.  Even teammate Wes Welker joined in.

Photo via Jeffrey Beall, Flickr
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Steve: No Meachem, no Stills, and now, no Grubbs for Saints

Another day, another name added to the list of players not taking part in practice. First it was Kenny Stills with a injured quad (still out), then Robert Meachem was absent yesterday due to his back (also still out), and now offensive lineman Ben Grubbs was just in shorts today; not taking part in any on the field work.

Head coach Sean Payton just said, “Both Ben and Robert will be back here, I think, in the next day or so, but in regards to injuries, as always, we never get into detail with them.”

Asked about day two of pads, Payton added, “I thought we had good tempo at practice. I thought it was crisp. We’ll see the film.  And again, it kind of goes back and forth.  I thought the kicking game, as well, we did some good things.  But after our second padded practice, there were a lot of things we can coach up and get corrected.”
Second-year player Tim Lelito is battling veteran Jonathan Goodwin for the starting center position currently, but says Goody is being a great mentor despite the fact they are fighting for the same job. “When we’re at lunch and dinner, I sit down with him and talk about 'hey what are we doing on this, and if the shifts here then what do you think?'” Lelito said.  “We have a good rapport on and off the field.”

Offensive guard Zach Strief says that is the norm around this team.  Veteran Saints helping out young players, even if they are fighting for the same gig, has always been a consistent aspect of this team.

“Having that in a team is what creates a culture of success,” Strief says. “That knowledge you gain by playing is invaluable, and as good as our coaching staff is, there are certain things you only get from experience.  To be able to pass that down I think keeps this team competitive. Really, it’s a testament to Mickey Loomis and Coach Payton and the kind of guys they’ve always brought in here. I think everyone loves coming to work because they’ve brought in good guys, guys that try to do the right thing. And really, the right thing is to do is to help the guys behind you.”
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Steve: Meachem sits out first day of pads at Saints camp

Make it two wide receivers on the stationary bike, as Robert Meachem joined Kenny Stills today. Stills is nursing a quad injury and Saints head coach Sean Payton revealed today that Meachem has a sore back.

“He came off; his back was flaring up a little bit. We’ll just have him calm down and he should be fine,” said Payton.
He also said he has been pleased with the work so for from the young receivers. He specially mentioned Seantavius Jones, who made a sweet grab this morning, and also Branson Coleman who has looked much better at training camp then he did at OTAs or mini-camp. Both are tall targets.

WR Brandin Cooks talked to us the first time this morning. He's the Black & Gold’s 1st round draft pick, and besides being a target for QB Drew Brees, Cooks will also be involved on special teams in the return game.  But will he return punts or kicks?

“I feel like I’ll be asked to do both,” Cooks said.  “So its just a matter of where they want to put me at, and where they feel most comfortable for me to play.”
Meanwhile, veteran cornerback Champ Bailey was involved in the play of the day. Brees completed a pass to fullback Erik Lorig and Bailey came up and caused a fumble.  The ball looked to be heading out of bounds, but safety Rafael Bush dove to keep it in play.  Bailey then made the recovery, drawing cheers from the fans in attendance.

“I kind of take it personally when a guy sticks his hand in my face,” Bailey said. “He tried to stiff-arm me; I’m not going to hurt him, I don’t know why he did that.  So I just had to make him pay somehow.  The best way is to get the ball from him. And Bush; I didn’t see him coming. All of a sudden the ball is back in my face again. I just got my head up, caught it and then we got a turnover.”
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Steve: Saints rookie profiles - Marcus Thompson

After waiving some players right before the start of training camp, the Saints signed a handful of kids, including linebacker Marcus Thomson out of Rutgers. He was initially picked up after this year’s draft by the Dolphins but was waived in May in order for the 'Fins to sign a guard to their roster. 

Thompson is now getting a 2nd chance to make an impression on an NFL team - New Orleans signed him 3 weeks after Miami let him go. In college he played in 42 games, starting in 26 of them.  He finished his career with 91 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss and one forced fumble. 

The LB was named the Scarlet Knights co-defensive MVP as a senior, after leading the team with 5.5 sacks.  Now on the Saints roster this training camp, Thompson has his work cut out for him to try and catch the eye of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

That's him making the tackle. He stands 6-foot-2, 260 pounds and registed 4.57 & 4.60 40-yard dash times at his pro day.     

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