Deke Bellavia

"Sports Talk" Co-Host
Weekdays 4-8pm

Twitter: @dekebigchief
Email: bigchief@wwl.com


Deke: NFL Top Ten - training camp edition

No more days of saying "man I wish football season was here!"  For those who follow the pigskin 24/7/365, they know that training camp is really the beginning of the season. As I do each year at this time, I’ll name who I think are the top 10 ten teams in the league right now.

1.      Seattle Seahawks – What is there not to like? How can one not place the defending champs atop of the top 10?  Sure, the odds are stacked against them, but this team has a tenacious defense, a good offense and a home field advantage that can only be rivaled by the Superdome.  Look for the 'Hawks to make another run at the title this season.

2.      San Francisco 49ers – They have been to three straight NFC Title Games and a hair away from being in the last three Super Bowls. Can the 49ers remain a power in the most dangerous division in the league?  Look out for those rising Rams and desert Cardinals.

3.      Denver Broncos – Denver retooled their defense after an embarrassing loss to the Seahawks. I know that the game’s greatest player in QB Peyton Manning says that the word 'embarrassing' is an insult, but do you have a better word for that beat down the White Ponies endured last February? I’m afraid until Manning gets back to another Super Bowl and wins it, no one will believe he will!

4.      New Orleans Saints – The Saints have inked their top WR/TE/Whatever the hell you want to call Jimmy Graham to a long-term deal.  The defense is better, the offensive line looks set and Rob Ryan’s hair is still nasty to some and long and lustrous to others.  Hey, if this team lands the top seed in the NFC, other conference teams need to cancel all plans, because the Who Dats will be back in the Super Bowl.  And they will win it again!  

5.      Indianapolis Colts – This team looks locked and loaded.  I know that the White Ponies and Pretty Pats are the favorites, but I think the Horseshoes can make it all the way.  Indy will be a legit contender for a long time. Or at least as they have a little Andrew Luck on their side!

6.      New England Patriots – When are the Pats going to fall off? Not until the model and the hood leave Clam Chowder Land.  Is there anyone in the AFC East that can threaten the Pats this season? Possibly? Maybe? Doubtful.

7.      Green Bay Packers – The Pack looks like a team that is a step ahead of the rest of the NFC North.  QB Aaron Rodgers is as good as it gets, and the Packers have a solid run game now.  Can Green Bay get better on D and hold off their rival Monsters of the Midway this season?

8.      Baltimore Ravens – Last season was the first time in six years that Coach John Harbaugh did not make the playoffs as a head coach of the Ravens. It won’t happen again. The Purple Birds are too talented on defense and they have a good QB in Joe Flacco.  

9.      Philadelphia Eagles – Can Coach Chip Kelly keep teams off balance on defense with his up-tempo style offense in the City of Brotherly Love? In a terrible NFC East, the Eagles look like the best of the bunch, though that ain’t saying much!

10.  Chicago Bears – The Bears have added Jared Allen on defense, and the Chi-Town offense has the best WR tandem in the league in Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall. Is Jay Cutler a Super Bowl QB?  If he wants to shed all the negative talk about him, then he needs to take his team to the land of February football!

Just outside the top 10:  

Arizona Cardinals – The Cards won 10 games last season and did not make it to the playoffs - if there is a team that can knock out either Seattle or San Fran in the stout NFC West, I think it’s Arizona. 

Atlanta Falcons – They were garbage last season, but Atlanta is too good at the QB position to be that bad again. Atlanta did not win the close games last season, but I think it will once again be the Diry Birds and Saints in a heated battle for the NFC South crown.

NY Jets – With arguably the best defensive front, an improved running game with Chris Johnson, and a veteran presence at QB in Mike Vick, the NY Planes could be a 10 win team this season. 
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Deke: Bobby & Hokie impressed by Toon, Saints RB's

After their first day off at training camp, the Saints returned to practice at the Greenbrier with a walkthrough, stretching and position groups, the team did the inside drill, which is focused on rushing the football for the offense and stopping the run for the defense.  Saints LB Curtis Lofton made a play that stood out as #50 had a nice stop on RB #22 Mark Ingram during the drill.

Later in practice, Lofton got into a fight with Saints RB Khiry Robinson. Saints DL Brandon Deaderick made fumble recovery after a botched snap between QB Luke McCown and Center Tim Lelito.

WR Nick Toon drew cheers from the crowd as he hauled in a long reception from QB Drew Brees during team drills later in practice.  Toon beat S Kenny Vaccaro and CB Champ Bailey to haul in a 50-yard reception.  

"Toon has been impressive this entire off season.  He did well in OTA's and mini-camp and he's doing well here at training camp," said Hokie Gajan.  Toon also hauled in a 20 yard pass from QB Ryan Griffin on a corner route.  

What else did Hokie see today? "Well, first of all the officials were out there today, and that stood out at times," Hokie said. NFL officials attend training camps around the league as part of implementing any new rules, and the refs will be calling Saturday's Black and Gold scrimmage. "There were a couple of times in which the special teams got flagged that would have nulified a return. That's something to clean up," Hokie continued.

The Cajun Cannon thought all the Saints RB's had a good day. "Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram, Travarius Cadet and Khiry Robinson all had nice runs in team offense," said Bobby.

The Saints worked on third-down situations in seven-on-seven and team drills today. "What happens is, the Saints coaching staff sets up a third down and distance situation, and they are looking to see if the offense can convert, and if the defense can hold,"  the Cannon explained.  

Drew Brees hooked up with WR Marques Colston on a 12 yard gain down the middle of the field for a first down.  Brees then hit WR Andy Tanner on a drag route for about 25 yards, and later hit TE Ben Watson on a crossing route for 17 yards.

A fight highlighted today's practice when defensive captian Curtis Lofton got into a scuffle with RB Khiry Robinson.  "I have never seen a fight between a linebacker and a running back in seven-on-seven drills.  I've seen fights, but not like that," Hebert said.  "You could hear Lofton yelling to Robinson 'you better bring it, boy!' Things like that happen on the football field.  Drew stepped in and calmed things down between the two." 
 
As for what I saw today, here's a quick list:

DB Vinne Sunseri picked off a pass that popped off WR Andy Tanner. QB Ryan Griffin had Tanner open and the WR attempted to make a touch catch.  But when the ball popped out, the former Crimson Tide standout picked off the pass.  

LB David Hawthorne would have had a sack on QB Drew Brees -DE Victor Butler would have had a sack on QB Ryan Grffin -CB Patrick P-Rob Robinson picked off a pass from QB Drew Brees.  Robinson made a diving catch to pick off the pass.  

QB Ryan Griffin hooked up with a WR Brandon Coleman for a 50-yard TD Grab. The 6'6" Coleman beat DB Rod Sweeting to catch the pass.  

So far (after six practices) the following players have had impressive training camps:

CB Patrick Robinson - He's playing like he's fighting for his job.  P-Rob made a diving pick today that was highlight-reel worthy. 

WR Nick Toon - Has been consistent since off season work started.

OT Zach Strief - Zach is building off his best season in the league with a good camp.

WR Brandin Cooks - He don't miss anything, he's fast, and he's for real.  

Who Dat!

CB Kennan Lewis - Lewis is a solid CB in this league.  And he should be in the running for a pro-bowl spot this season.
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Deke: Saints WR Toon might make a big splash in 2014

His skill set is very good, his size allows him to have an advantage over most DB’s and he comes from some pretty good NFL stock. Saints wide receiver Nick Toon enters his third season with a lot on the line.

“Yeah, it’s a good start. There’s a lot of work to be done before the regular season gets started.  I think I am off to a good start," Toon said. He has been solid during off-season work and he’s off to a very productive start at training camp thus far. Still, his first two seasons in the NFL have left a lot to be desired.
   
Toon spent his entire rookie season in 2012 on injured reserve, and 2013 was not that impressive. The talented WR was known more for what he didn’t do than what was expected of him. Toon played in eight games last season with three starts to his credit, and finished the season with four receptions for 68 yards.
 
“It was extremely frustrating. It was definitely a learning experience but it’s something that you have to sit back and look, okay, why did this happen? What can I change? Move forward and take it as a learning experience. There are new learning experiences every day, positive and negative, you just have to learn from your past and use it to put yourself in a better position for the future.”
 
Toon spoke to the media earlier this week about his struggles his first two seasons in the NFL. “I think Nick Toon can be a very good player for the Saints. His father, Al Toon, was one of the best ever. And I think Nick has the skills to be very productive.  He’s just got to go out there and catch the football,” said Bobby Hebert. Al Toon was one of the greatest wide receivers in New York Jets history.  Nick says he is able to lean on his father for some words of advice.

“Just be patient.  Like you said, you just have to be patient and be ready.  You can twist it a million different ways, but you just have to be ready when your opportunity presents itself.”

And how does QB Drew Brees think the third year WR is doing?  “He is playing with a lot of confidence right now, and he is healthy. I think now going into his third year in this offense, I think he has a chance to see a lot of things, absorb a lot of things, a lot of things are becoming more natural for him, so he is able to play fast.  A lot of these subtle adjustments he has down now.  He has watched (Marques) Colston enough times and Lance (Moore) and those guys. I think that has been a big thing for him. More opportunities he gets, the better he will become.”
 
Toon averaged 17 yards per grab in 2013 and his longest reception was a 35 yard grab against the Chicago Bears.  Toon says right now, his focus is just improve each time he's on the field.
 
“I am just trying to continue doing what I did last year, build off what I did and come out here and try to prove myself every day and just do my job. My biggest thing is I’m just trying to come out here and prove myself, stay consistent, and make plays.”
 
With 11 WR's on the roster, the Saints have legit talent and competition at the position.  I think Colston, Cooks and Stills are locks. Then you have Joe Morgan, Robert Meachum, Nick Toon, Brandon Coleman, Andy Tanner, Seantavius Jones and Charles Hawkins all trying to make the roster.  

One thing that looks evident to me is the trust and chemistry Toon is seemingly building with Drew Brees and the other Saints QB's.  Toon knows that trust and chemistry will be key in him making the squad.  

“Trust comes with time. You can’t make up chemistry. Chemistry comes from repetition and it comes with time. I have been here a few years now and it is something I have been trying to continue to develop from the first day I stepped on the field. Even now, I am still trying to work on that every day.  I am continuing to build on that chemistry and the relationship with the quarterbacks.”
 
New Orleans will be fine at the WR position, and when you toss in the league's leading TD grabber from a year ago (Jimmy Graham) and fellow TE Ben Watson, the pass catchers are one of the better groups in the NFL.

Toon could really help put the Saints over the top on offense.  His big 6'4" frame allows him to cause match-up problems, and if he continues to move in the right direction, Toon could be yet another very dangerous weapon for New Orleans this season.

It's early, and there is a lot of time left before the first game of the season happens against Atlanta.  But to all of you out there looking for a guy to make a big splash for the Saints offense, picking Nick Toon would not be a bad idea.
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Deke: Jim Henderson likes what he sees in 2014 Saints

He’s as good at what he does as anyone in the profession. He has been covering the New Orleans Saints for 35 years, and as he enters year 36, he knows that this year’s version of the team has a chance to be special.  

When I asked him about what has changed since he first took over the mic, Jim Henderson told me “the expectations have gotten much greater over the years.” When I asked Jim why he thinks the Saints have become one of the most popular teams in sports today, he pointed out a few things. "The Saints have played so many nationally televised games recently, And everyone loves Drew. Everybody loves the style of football the Saints play. They love the televised home games in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. As we very well know, the Saints have a very colorful fan base and they win at home." 
 
For those of you keeping count, the Who Dat Nation can brag with the best of them when it comes to protecting their home turf. The Saints are an impressive 31-9 at home in the 'Dome since 2009, including perfect home records in 2011 and 2013. 
 
Jim thinks the rest of the world has many reasons to be encouraged about the 2014 Saints. "This is an easy team to root for. It's a good bunch of guys, there is great amount of talent, and when you look at the roster and the additions they have made, everybody is encouraged at this point. You would have to think that this is a team that is going to be a championship caliber team." 
 
So what does Jim think the club is focusing on going into this season?  "There is a re-commitment to the running game.  When you look back at last season, running the football when you have to run the football to control the game is something the team has harped on."  Jim thinks there are going to be games when the Saints have to deal with bad weather, and being able to run the ball in those conditions is important.
 
Jim says when you look at what the Saints have done by adding a players like Jairus Byrd and Brandin Cooks, the Black and Gold will be better. How much better? "They were close last year... when you look at how the Saints finished the season a year ago (23-15 loss to Seattle), and then look at what Seattle did to Denver in the Super Bowl, I think that re-enforces how close the Saints are to being as good as any team in the NFL."  
 
On Sundays when I co-host "Countdown to Kickoff," every analyst, reporter and broadcaster always acknowledges how good and how professional Jim Henderson is.  He's not flashy, he's not over-the-top and he damn sure ain't arrogant. Jim Henderson knows when to get excited, he knows all the right words to say and when to say them, and he's a humble man that many of us are just grateful to work with. 
 
He's not trying to be anything other than who he is, and he's calling the games of one of the best teams in sports. So as the Saints get set to start the season, we can all get a little more excited, hyped and amped up that the man with the smooth delivery and golden touch behind the mic will guide the Who Dat Nation on another ride. And this ride could be one that does not end until early February! 
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Deke: A look at the 2014 Heisman hopefuls

In the past, there wasn't as much excitement surrounding the Heisman race, but in the last several years, some record-setting performances have earned the award. Between Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, Johnny Football and Famous Jameis, the Heisman has gotten more hype - and rightfully so.
 
As we enter the 2014 college football season, the obvious front-runner looks to be the guy who won last year - FSU’s Jameis Winston.  What was so impressive about the young man from FSU is that it’s hard to point out what he did best last season. Winston threw for over 4,000 yards, he threw 40 TD passes, completed almost 67 percent of his passes, and won the national title - that’s damn impressive!  I think Winston is the clear favorite to win it again, as we could have out first repeat winner since the Buckeye’s Archie Griffin accomplished that feat in 1974 and 1975.

As we move closer to the start of a historic season, here are several players I think have a shot to be in the mix to win the 2014 Heisman Trophy.  

Braxton Miller (QB Ohio State) will have the numbers, and his team will have enough wins for him to be a serious contender. Miller not only is a threat with his arm, but he should be able to rush for more than 1,000 yards again this season. Plus, Miller has lost only two games in two seasons.  Miller will be a serious contender this year.   

Oregon QB Marcus Mariota's numbers will be as good as anyone, but there seems to be a bit of hate when it comes to the Oregon program.  With back-to-back losses to Stanford, and poor outings in each of those games, Mariota was completely taken out of the race after those two games in 2012 and again in 2013. I’m not saying that the Ducks have to win all of their games for Mariota to win the trophy, but for a guy that passed for over 3,600 yards, rushed for another 715 and totaled 40 TD’s, he has to at least lose with better numbers than he has the last two seasons.  

Trevor Knight is a player that has exploded into the race for basically one performance. Granted, the 348 yards and four TD’s that Knight tossed in the Oklahoma Sooners 45-31 blowout win over Alabama was damn good.  Knight should be able to pad his stats this season, and the Sooners should be in the top 5 all season long.  If OU lands in one of the four playoff spots, look for Knight to be in NY for the Heisman ceremony. That’s not bad for a guy that threw only five TD’s and four picks before he scorched the Tide!

Bulldogs RB Todd Gurley has fans in Georgia saying the young man is the second coming of Herschel Walker. Gurley rushed for 989 yards and hauled in 441 yards in receptions. His 16 total TD’s was quite impressive, considering that he missed three games last season. Gurley could be overlooked due to the fact that fellow UGA RB Keith Marshall will get plenty of touches this season too.

I think that Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon could be a factor in the Heisman race this season. Gordon quietly averaged 7.8 yards per rush last season, while piling up 1,609 yards on 206 rushing attempts. Although his Badgers lost to South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl, Gordon gashed an SEC defense to the tune of 143 yards, averaging 5.7 yards per touch.  If Gordon lights it up on national TV against another SEC team in the season opener against LSU, that could be a big push for him to start the season.

You have to toss Tide RB T.J. Yeldon into the mix . Sure, Alabama has three quality backs with Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake in the Tide backfield, but Yeldon is the ringleader.  Leading the SEC in rushing (123.5 yards per game) in 2013 is super big, and with a new face at QB, Yeldon could be another Tide RB that factors into the race this season.  

Another to keep an eye on is UCLA QB Brett Hundley, and for a dark horse I’ll go way out on a limb and give a look-see to Ole Miss WR Laquan Treadwell. Hundley is a legit candidate after throwing for nearly 7,000 yards and 53 TD’s the last two seasons, and the Bruins could be the class of the Pac-12 this season. Treadwell is truly a long shot, but I like him a lot!  Wide Receivers don’t usually factor into the race as a serious contender unless they do some special things on special teams. Treadwell will have to get his attention from his play at WR. The big target was third in the SEC last season averaging seven receptions per game.  The true freshman lived up to the hype last season and if the Rebels can get off to a hot start and Treadwell does well against Alabama in the Rebels fifth game of the season, hey he might be mentioned.  

I caution you that if you go back and look at three players that went on to win the Heisman, no one knew who they were before the season.  Those players were, Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston. In other words, another unknown could easily win the trophy again this year!  

Photo via WorldofBenjamin, Flickr
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Deke: Which Saints running backs actually have the best run game?

As my lovely co-host the Cajun Cannon and I watched practice from the stands, we began to talk about the Saints running backs. Just like any position, there is more to it than meets the eye.  
 
RB's have to be able to do far more than just run the football.  You've got to be able to protect the QB, pick up the blitz, catch the ball out of the backfield, etc. but for right now, I am giving you my take on just running the football alone. I'm not breaking down overall game, who's the most complete back on the Saints roster and so on, I'm just giving you my take on how the RB's do strictly running the football.
 
So in this order, here is how I see 'em.
   
#1 Khiry Robinson - Robinson has the best first step, and he explodes as soon as the football is placed in his hands. Cadet's not far behind in that regard, but I like Robinson's total package as far as carrying the football.  If there is a RB on this team that can become the featured back that gets the most carries, I think it's Khiry Robinson.
 
#2 Travaris Cadet - I know in the past he's fumbled the ball, but on just running the ball, the #2 guy is Cadet.  He can cut on a dime, he's as shifty as Robinson and he has a burst of speed that gives him an edge on the other backs behind him on my list.  
 
#3 Pierre Thomas - PT is the best overall RB on the Saints.  He's a seasoned vet, he's still the total package, is a trusted guy that does not miss blocking assignments, and he can still get those hard 2-3 yards needed on crucial third-down situations. If I was rating the RB's overall, PT would be #1.
 
#4 Mark Ingram - Ingram is a good RB, but he does not have the burst and does not get the hard 2-4 yards needed like the RB's I have listed above. I think #22 is having a very good camp, but I want to see some of the Mark Ingram from Bryant Deny Stadium. This is not the NCAA, it's the NFL, and sometimes great CFB players take time to adjust.  I'm not ready to say Ingram is not a good RB, but on rushing the football alone, he's not better than the guys above him on my list.  
 
Timothy Flanders and Derrick Strozier are both good runners and both have made nice place in OTA's mini-camp and in training camp.  But I don't see either in the top four right now. 
 
Again, this is just one person's opinion on how the RB's run the football. I'm quite sure that in the film rooms this list would get some holes punched, because I'm not taking into account the full body of work.  But as far as running the football is concerned, this is how I see it. 
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Deke: Love him or hate him, Les Miles' greatness is undeniable

His teams are always "capable," his opponents are "always of quality," and his players enjoy the "want to win."  Say what?  Those are just a few of the things that we've heard come out of Les Miles.

As he enters 10th season as head coach of the LSU Tigers, the most made-for-TV coach in college football is set to prepare for another season at the helm in Baton Rouge.  Les Miles begins the 2014 season as the third-longest tenured coach in the program's history.

Only Charles McClendon (1962-1979) and Bernie Moore (1935-1947) have coached more seasons at LSU. And by seasons end, only Charlie Mac will have coached more games as a Tigers head coach.

Still, with all of his 119 games coached and having netted an impressive 95 wins, Les Miles is somewhat disrespected. When you open a pre-season college football guide and read about who are the top coaches in the game today, his name rarely shows up on anyone's list.

He is criticized more than he is praised; some analysts claim that he wins with his talent and not his coaching. And no one will ever let Miles forget what happened on November 21st in Oxford, Mississippi. But in my opinion, he's perfect for LSU!

For a fan base that loves to tout how loud and proud they are, what coach would better fit the Purple and Gold crazies than the Mad Hatter himself?  As much as he gets bashed for saying all the wrong things that seemingly make everyone scratch their heads, Les Miles has said and done far more things right than he has wrong.

When it comes to talking about playing in Tiger Stadium, no coach has pumped up his fans and his home venue quite like Miles does.  When the media tries to come down on one of his players, or calls out his team, he's the first to jump up and defend those players and his team.

For all the negative things said about his coaching style, the way he speaks, and how he handles his program, Les Miles must be doing something right. How can a bad coach win so many games?

It's because he has more talent than most.  It's because he's at the right place and the right time. Or is he just flat out lucky most days?  The more so-called analysts, experts and people who don't know him try to categorize him, the more games he just keeps on winning.

Football is just like life, and sometimes things done differently are not bad, dumb or uncool - they are just different. And I think regardless if you're a Les Miles fan or a Les Miles hater, you would all have to agree that he's different. And often, different is better.

For the last nine years, I've had the opportunity to interview Coach Miles every Monday during the season after his weekly "Lunch with Les" presser that takes place on the campus.

In those nine years lot of things have happened.  There have been happy interviews, serious interviews, uncomfortable interviews and memorable interviews.  And honestly, I can remember every one of the over 150 interviews I've conducted with Coach Miles.

Over the course of nine years, you get to know someone.  What that person likes, what they dislike, what they don't mind talking about and things that are better left unasked.

I can remember Monday, December 3rd when I walked into Michael Bonnette's office and found an excited Miles that saw his Tigers team go from being ranked #5 after a triple overtime loss to Arkansas the week prior, to jumping three spots in a matter of hours to land a spot in the BCS Title Game in New Orleans. Sure, Coach was hyped, but I think deep down inside, he was raring to have a shot at Ohio State. After all, Miles loved the Buckeyes as a player and Coach for the Maize and Blue. LOL!

And then there was the Monday after what many dubbed the "Meltdown in Mississippi," when the Tigers suffered an embarrassing loss at the hands of rival Ole Miss.  It was during the 2009 season and Coach Miles just got done with his weekly presser and he was peppered by the media on why he handled the end of the Tigers' game against the Rebels the way he did.

Coach just walked in and sat on the couch and looked right at me with a kind of intimidating look. I was a little nervous, as less than 48 hours before, I too was hammering how he handled the end of the game.

Still, Miles just looked at me and asked me something I never would have thought. "Deke, how'd I do out there?" I told Coach Miles that what he had just told the media was some of the things they wanted to hear. But like everyone else who was at the game, watched on TV or listened to the radio, Miles too was a part of something that he had never witnessed before.

After we talked a few minutes more, I hit record on my mp3 player and remember Les saying to me "Deke, this is a hard week for the Tigers. We've got to find a way to regroup and go out there and get a win." Sure enough, he did just that as he guided LSU to a gut check 33-30 overtime win over Arkansas.  

Now, don't take what I'm writing the wrong way.  I've never been to dinner with the coach, and don't consider us close friends.  But I can say that Coach Miles speaks from his heart, and I truly believe that when he says something, he means it.And the more he speaks from the heart, it seems like the more people misunderstand what he's saying.  But ultimately the proof is in the pudding and Les Miles is a winner.

I believe that parents trust Les Miles, they are impressed with how he deals with his players, and they like how those players at LSU become better people having been around him.

Whichever way you break it down, the man has won 95 games and he has embraced a very difficult-to-please fan base.  Les Miles may not be a good game day coach, he may not be among the so called top-tier coaches in college football, but you can't dispute that he is one of the most successful coaches in the game today. And when it is all said and done in Baton Rouge, the Mad Hatter will go down as arguably the greatest coach in LSU history. And only one person is the greatest.

They say be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.  And LSU has Les Miles.  One day Tigers Fans may get what the wish for, and then maybe they will wish they had someone like Les Miles leading their Tigers.  Well right now they have him.  And what they have is far more than less!  
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Deke: Hokie says "that was the best Saints practice I've ever seen"

Saints practice moved quickly today, as the team had a longer than usual walk-through prior to stretching. "I thought today was the best practice I've seen under Sean Payton!" said Hokie Gajan. "It was fast paced, the practice was crisp, and I'd say it was 50-50 between the Saints offense and defense." 

Once practice began, the Black and Gold got down to business. During position group work the Saints D-line hit the sled. Then, after the horn sounded, the Saints went into their first team period. 

The Cajun Cannon noted a few highlights from the morning's practice. Veteran cornerback Champ Bailey had a nice interception this morning and Bobby thinks the future Hall of Fame player is having a productive camp.  "I'd definitely say he's in the top four cover CB's right now. He's making plays and his wisdom makes him real valuable."

Bobby used Saints CB Patrick Robinson as an example of the difference between having a good camp and a great camp. "P-Rob is doing all the right things and he is having a good camp.  But he'd would be having a great camp if he would make the interceptions he's supposed to." 
 
One player that just continues to look un-rookie-like is Brandin Cooks.  The WR is having as good of a camp as anyone, and he gains more confidence and gets better each time he's on the field of play. Today #10 hauled in a deep ball from Drew Brees on a back shoulder throw.  

Cooks was also the recipient of a middle screen that would have netted him about 70 yards. "I telling you Cooks, is no ordinary rookie," said Hebert.  "He's catching everything that is thrown to him, he's got good chemistry with all of the QB's - he's the total package."

I focused in on the Saints D-line once again.  In one-on-one drills against the offense, OT Zach Strief looked solid against DE Cam Jordan, LT Terron Armstead definitely held his own against DE Junior Gallette. OG Jahri Evans was solid in pass protection drills.

#97 Glenn Foster stood out as he bull rushed his way into the backfield over #69 Manase Foketi. And big Tyrunn Walker looked good in three exchanges as he had the upper hand going up against #65 Senio Kelemete.  Overall in the drill, I thought the O-Line looked better in one-on-one drills.  

So now the Black and Gold will have their first day off tomorrow, as the team has gone through five days of practices including three days of full pads.  Be sure to listen to our pros Hokie and Bobby break down today's practice beginning at 4pm on WWL Radio.


 
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Deke: Rob was hot, it's cold at Saints camp, and I ain't lying

I woke up this morning walked out of my hotel room and said "whoa!" I had to go back and change my clothes. Thank goodness I wisely packed some long wind pants, sweat pants and a couple of my favorite Saints long tops. 

I know back home the actual temp versus how it really feels outside varies. That also applies up here. The thermometer read 70 degrees this morning when I walked out of my room.  But it felt much cooler than that. 

Let me break it down New Orleans style. This morning felt like one of those days when no matter how bad you felt, no matter what someone may have said about you, what you read about you or what someone might have posted on Facebook about you, the weather made everything a little bit better.

Like the first cool day in New Orleans when you think of walking the streets in the French Quarter. You know a cool day checking out all of the fresh produce at the French Market, scooping up some hot beignets and grabbing a cup of strong Big Easy coffee, that’s what it felt like this morning. You know what I’m telling you - it was football weather.

But my mindset was thrown off because we don’t feel no football weather in July were are from. We usually don’t get it until late October or November.  I felt like I was on my way to the 'Dome to do "Countdown to Kickoff" instead of the fourth day of practice. 

Then I came to. I looked around and there was no Dome. I did not have my car parked next to Hokie, Jim and the Cajun Cannon at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.  And I did not have on my lucky Saints Shirt. It was a brief day dream of what football season feels like.  It felt good. And I know that the real season is not far off. 
 
Practice presented a steady brisk breeze, but I could feel the heat coming off the head of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.  Ryan was challenging his defense (to say the least) as he did not like what he saw early in during the inside drill. “Run the _____ drill.  Get your pads lower to the ground.  Win the individual battles.” Those were just some of the things we heard out at practice today.  

At times the Saints offense opened swiss cheese holes in the Saints defense. But give the Black and Gold defense credit, for the second straight practice, the defense finished strong. In fact for the second straight day, the defense looked better than the offense on the back end of practice.
 
The "Pink Panther" is having a good start to camp. Say what? Yes, nicknames come and go, and one I heard today was "Pink Panther."  “Man I told y’all Pink Panther could play,” said Saints CB Kennan Lewis.  Lewis was talking about rookie safety Pierre Warren. Lewis calls Warren Pink Panther and today the Panther picked off a pass to serve notice he will not go quietly from this roster!

Now there is one more day before the team has their first day off.  Jim (Henderson) may try and take in some fly fishing, K-Dog and T-Bob have their show to do, Big Daddy Steve Geller will be doing his daily sports wraps and me, Hokie and the Cannon will more than likely sleep in.

I’ve already did laundry so I’m good there and I keep my room super fresh and so clean.  I write each day because it makes me feel a little closer to home, and truth be told, I’m not one who likes to stay by myself.  So as each day passes I’ll continue to give you all a little football, a little insight on what’s happening up here. And I’ll toss into the mix a little fun.  Til tomorrow – Who Dat!
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Deke: Bobby & Hokie note offense's fast start, but D closes hard

The Saints worked through what felt like a cool autumn day at practice this morning at the Advocare Faclility. And even if you know absoultely nothing about football, by listening to Coach Ryan and Coach Vitt you would conclude that the Saints defense did not get off to a good start this morning. I can't write out 95% of what was coming out Rob Ryan, let's just say he was hot. It gets intense on the field, and like the players, coaches are passionate. Coach Ryan was trying to inspire his defense.
 
As I walked onto the practice field this morning, I could hear a little hip hop music playing over the loudspeaker.  Maybe the Saints offense liked the music more than the defense did, because the Black and Gold defense was out of sync!
 
There were 15 plays run during the inside drill and the Saints offense won 11 of them.  Mark Ingram had a nice five yard gain and reeled off a huge gainer, cutting back to the left side and finding nothing but green grass in front of him.

In team action, TE Jimmy Graham could not get his hands on a pass from QB Drew Brees on the first play. Later, it looked like a miscommunication between Brees and Toon happened as the pass went sailing downfield and Toon had broken off his route, with the ball going incomplete.  

Brees would later connect with TE Jimmy Graham and WR Nick Toon for nice completions during the team period.  Brees hit WR Marques Colston for 20 yard gain on seven on seven drils as Brees hit #12 on a crossing route.

Hokie's Call:

As practice continued, the defense picked up the pace. "It has been two days in pads, and in my opinion I give the nod to the Saints defense," said Hokie Gajan. "It's easy to get caught up in what happens early on, but if you look at the entire practice, I think the defense did well on the back end of the two padded sessions."

The weather continues to be a factor, and today there was no rain but plenty of wind. "You could tell there were a lot of short passes and check downs, and that was caused by the wind," Gajan said. "I don't think you can fully judge the passing game on what took place today.  The high winds altered a lot of plays out there." 

Bobby's Take:

The Cajun Cannon praised the Saints offense during the early inside drill.  "I've got two pages of quotes - I don't think I've ever heard Coach Rob Ryan that animated!" Hebert said.  Even though the offense had the upper hand in inside drills, Bobby said that defensive linemen Aikem Hicks and Tyrunn Walker both did their jobs. "It was more the back-up players that struggled."

Bobby noted that the offensive line opened big holes against the defense, and Saints RB's had their way more times than not during the inside drill. RB's Pierre Thomas, Khiry Robinson and Tim Flanders reeled off big gains.  Robinson would later do a solid job of picking the blitz on safety Kenny Vaccaro. Travaris Cadet found a gaping hole after taking handoff as he cut back to the left for a lot of real estate ahead of him - I'd say about 60 yards. 

Some notable plays made by the defense included a pass batted down by DL Tyrunn Walker on QB Ryan Griffin.  CB Kennan Lewis ("West Bank") had  a very good morning as he had back to back pass break ups on WR Andy Tanner and WR Joe Morgan.

You could hear the veteran DB Lewis encouraging youngster DB Pierre Warren, to whom the players have given the nickname "Pink Panther." Warren picked off a pass as WR Brandon Coleman could not hang on to the football.

"Listen, when a veteran player (Lewis) gives you a nickname and says you can play, then you got a chance.  I think Pierre Warren could be a darkhorse to make the team," the Cajun Cannon said.   Warren is a rookie Safety who played college football at Jacksonville State.  Kennan Lewis was in on three straight plays in which he affected the pass.  

CB Patrick (P-Rob) Robinson continues to have a good camp as he was in on broken up pass against QB Drew Brees.  Robinson could have had an interception.
 
Bobby gave credit to the Saints defense for bouncing back after a slow start this morning.  "I thought the defense made some nice plays as practice progressed. The defense got gashed early in the inside drill, but I saw several plays made in the second half of practice."

Rookie WR Brandin Cooks is no ordinary rookie - he looks like a veteran out there. Cooks caught a pass in traffic, and he looks so natural returning punts on special teams.

"Cooks looks like a seasoned vet out there. He runs precise routes and he's putting on a clinic!. I can see why the Saints moved up to get him," Bobby said of the Saints prized rookie.  Hebert continues to like the play of WR Seantavius Jones, too.  "He's having a good camp and he will need to keep making plays if he's going to make the team in some capacity."

Bobby said that fellow rookie, CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste have a good size advantage over some players they face.  "Baptiste uses his size well in one on one drills."

 
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