The New Orleans Saints were back on the practice field this morning. Today marked the second time the media was allowed to attend a Saints OTA (Organized Team Activity) session. The media was escorted to the field a little before 11AM, and practice ended about noon.
Some of the things that stood out to the Cajun Cannon included the first handful of plays in the team period. Hebert said that the defense did a good job of covering the pass catchers forcing Drew Brees and the other QB’s to hold on to the ball in the pocket too long.
“I think it was a good day for the secondary. And I’ll give the edge to the defense,” said the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert.
Several times in the team sessions at today’s OTA the QB’s had trouble getting the ball off in a timely manner.
After the practice Coach Sean Payton addressed the media and talked about wide receiver Joe Morgan, arrested and charged with DWI over the weekend.
“I just think each team is faced with it at some point, hopefully less than more,” Payton said. “It is what it is in regards to the lesson you hope the players, including Joe, learn from it. It’s our job to keep reinforcing the importance of being smart and making right decisions and it’s something that we really try to pride ourselves in since we began here in 2006.”
Former Saints fullback and current Saints Color Analyst Hokie Gajan was at practice this morning as well. Hokie said that he saw a few new things defensively this week.
“It looks like to me that Rob Ryan (Saints Defensive Coordinator) has had the opportunity to spend some good time with his players and install more packages.”
Hokie also said that he could tell that the defense was giving some different looks at this week’s OTA compared to the one the media attended a week. “A few times the QB had to eat the ball back in the pocket. I thought that was due to good coverage in the secondary,” Gajan said.
New Saints Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan talked about the work he and his defense are getting in right now.
“Most of it is looking correct (digesting the defense). There were a couple of mistakes out there where we really looked exotic. The thing I have been the most impressed about is our veterans and how quickly they’ve picked things up. Guys have position flexibility all through this roster. There are so many talented guys here but, the veterans in particular (have impressed me). The Will Smiths, the (Jonathan)Vilmas, Curtis Lofton, and Roman Harper. I’ve been really impressed with how much these guys love football, how much they study, and what quick learners they are. It’s really been impressive.”
OLB Junior Galette and Will Smith, DE Cam Jordan and CB Patrick Robinson all stood out this morning. Robinson did a good job of covering WR Marques Colston. Robinson knocked the ball out of Colston’s hands on one exchange.
CB Jabari Greer had solid coverage on Colston as well and S Rafael Bush came up big with a near interception. However Bush was out of bounds when he caught the ball. The offense did have their moments as well.
Brees completed a pass to Colston for about 15 yards while Brees went deep to TE Jimmy Graham later in team drills.
Next week's mini-camp sessions: The Saints will get back to work next week as they hold their annual mini-camp sessions next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The Saints will hit the field at 10:15AM with practice concluding at 12:45PM. The morning practices are open to the public and there is no charge to view practice. Gates will open to the public 45 minutes prior to each practice. And parking for fans is available in the Zephyr Field parking lot. However if the Saints are forced to practice indoors due to bad weather, no fans will be allowed in the Saints' indoor practice facility.
LSU Coach Paul Mainieri jumped into the Sports Talk Radio huddle on Monday with me and Bobby Hebert. Coach Mainieri talked about the Tigers’ big SEC Tournament Title win, and he also previewed the Baton Rouge Regional in which the Tigers host Jackson State, UL Lafayette and Sam Houston State.
“Just about everybody performed well. And we needed all of our pitchers to do well. We did not score that many runs in the SEC Tournament,” Coach Mainieri said.
Coach went on to say that the Tigers’ winning of the SEC Tournament gives his team a lot of confidence going into post season play.
The Tigers open regional play this Friday as the take on 4th seed Jackson State. Pre-Game begins at 1:30 with first pitch at 2PM right here on Tiger Radio WWL AM&FM. The winner of the Baton Rouge Regional will take on the winner of the Blacksburg Regional in next week’s Super Regional.
Many folks were kind of surprised and some even upset that LSU came in as the #4 national seed. “I’m not worried about it,” Mainieri told us. “The #1 overall seed has not won the national title since 1999. The most important thing is that we are one of the national seeds. And if we are fortunate enough to win the regional we will host the Super Regional.”
He will be entering his tenth season in the National Football League this season in the same uniform that he began his career in back in 2004. The lone player that is still on the Saints roster from the previous coaching staff will get a new look at opposing offenses this season.
“It creates a story that you guys (the media) can talk about. But I knew all along.” Those were Will Smith’s words when he was talking about moving from defensive end to outside linebacker in the Saints new 3-4 defensive scheme.
“I kind of get put in a hybrid outside linebacker slash defensive end and that’s essentially were I’m going to be playing this year,” Smith said. Smith will be moved from his usual Defensive End position to the Weak side Outside linebacker position.
Smith told us when he re-signed with the Saints this spring that he knew he would be changing positions under new Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan. In 2012 Will had 33 tackles and six sacks for the Saints in 16 regular season games.
Since having a big season in the Saints Super Bowl run in 2009, Smith’s numbers have dropped off the last three years. In 2009 Smith had 37 tackles and 13 sacks. But since that Super Bowl season, Smith’s highest sack number in a season has been 6.5 which he got in 2011.
Smith went on to talk about some of the things he is looking forward to in playing his new position and Smith also talked about some of the challenges he faces at his new spot.
After a season in which the Saints did not have their head coach, in which the club limped through to a very disappointing 7-9 record, New Orleans will hit the field this week as off season practices get underway. The media will get to attend an OTA (Organized Team Activity) session this week for the first time this off season.
Coach Sean Payton today said he’s as eager as the rest of the team to get back on the field.
“In each off-season, you're trying to gain an advantage and improve and get ready for the upcoming year...I'm sure the players just as well as the coaches, myself, everyone is disappointed with the past season. That's kind of behind us, and guys are anxious and yet understanding it's going to be pretty competitive heading into this training camp.”
We all know what Payton means to the Saints franchise, but did any of us expected the team to drop off as bad as they did in 2012? After all the Saints were favored to win 12 games going into last season but fell way short of those predictions winning just seven times.
But after a dismal 0-4 start the Saints never really recovered and finished with a losing record. The Saints not only had a losing record. But the Black and Gold failed to reach the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season.
Now, with everyone back in the fold the team gets to work this week on the field of play. Two of obvious issues, storylines, whatever you may wish to call them, deal with the new look defense and the starting left tackle spot on defense.
When it comes to ranking last, the Saints defense held that title in just about all major stats last season. The defense was so bad it prompted Coach Sean Payton to fire defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo after just one season.
Now, new Coach Rob Ryan brings a swagger to the Saints defense that is much needed. Ryan's defensive style will be an aggressive one that features a lot of blitz packages as well as the development of players already on the roster that have yet to produce solid results.
By the moves made this off season, the Saints and Coach Ryan must feel that players like Junior Gallette and Martez Wilson can be difference-makers under Ryan's scheme. The Saints landed veteran free agent players CB Kennan Lewis and pass rusher Victor Butler this off season. And just today, Coach Payton said that DE Will Smith will see some time at outside linebacker during OTA’s.
And of course, another big question mark is the left tackle position. After starter Jermon Bushrod bolted for big money and the Chicago Bears, the Saints now must find a replacement for Bushrod.
Going into practice the likely possible replacements include former second round draft pick Charles Brown, veteran free agent pick up and former first rounder from St. Louis Jason Smith, along with third round pick from this year’s draft, Terron Armstead.
The problems on the defensive and offensive lines line being solved could help the team in more ways than one. For example, a better offensive line would help improve the leagues’ 25th-ranked running game. And a better rush attack can help a poor defense stay off the field more often, which can only be a good thing.
So, here we go. The trek to getting back to elite status is underway. And if the Saints are to get back to their expected winning ways, fixing some problems on the offensive line and revamping the Saints defense can certainly lead to another winning season…And perhaps even more. Hopefully much more!
Yes, I know that all coaches and most players say it, but it’s true! When it comes to football, championships are won in the off season. Saints Offensive Guard Ben Grubbs is also in that number.
“I believe that the road to the Super Bowl does start in the off season,” Grubbs told me and Bobby Hebert.
Grubbs will enter his second season in a Black and Gold uniform with the hopes of better results in 2013 compared to a disappointing 7-9 season a year ago. Grubbs is coming off his first-ever softball charity event that took place Wednesday night at Zephyr Field.
“We (Saints) are enjoying working together and everyone is showing up and showing out,” he said.
Ben went on to talk about when he played for the Ravens and how he blocked for RB Ray Rice. And Grubbs was real high on the current stable of running backs he paves the way for.
“What’s so great about playing here is that we (Saints) have multiple guys that can be just as successful as Ray. We don’t want to pass the ball 70 times per game. We want to have more balance. It’s not just about running the ball more. It’s about running the ball more effectively.”
The Saints’ lack of a running game last season has been one of the more pressing topics this off season when discussing how the team can improve going into the season. New Orleans ranked 25th in the NFL during the 2012 season with an average of 98.6 yards per game.
Grubbs went on to talk about his role in the community here in New Orleans and also talked more about the Saints working this off season to have a better running game.
You can listen to our entire interview with Grubbs by clicking below:
A lot of special moments are expected this weekend as the #2 ranked LSU Baseball Tigers take on the Ole Miss Rebels. Head Coach Paul Mainieri told me and Bobby Hebert that even though his team has sewn up the SEC West, they are in no way going to relax this weekend. "This is an important series because it is the next opponent. We want to continue to play well before the SEC Tournament begins next week," Mainieri said.
LSU improved their overall record to 46-7 with an 11-2 win over UNO Tuesday night. The Tigers’ 46 regular-season wins are the most regular-season victories in school history since the NCAA adopted the current 56-game regular-season schedule in 1992. The Tigers clinched the SEC Western Division Title last Saturday with a win over Texas A&M. This season LSU has won every SEC series with the exception of a 2-1 series loss to South Carolina.
With their win over UNO LSU continued their streak of wins versus in-state competition. The Tigers have now won 27 consecutive games against Louisiana schools. And, LSU has netted 34 straight non-conference mid-week victories.
They say that there is a thin line between winning and losing, and the Tigers have been excellent in close games. The Tigers have complied a 13-3 record in games decided by two runs or less one this season. “We have had a lot of guys step up each week. We will need that kind of play the rest of the season,” according to the Coach. Mainieri went on to talk about his decision not to play star pitcher Aaron Nola the rest of the regular season, as well as discussing this weekend’s opponent, the Ole Miss Rebels.
The Tigers open their three game series against Ole Miss Thursday night right here on WWL Radio. LSU will also have a special ceremony this weekend to name their current field Skip Bertman Field. The Tigers will have senior night on Saturday, and they will also honor the 1993 National Championship Team this weekend as well.
“It’s going to be a special time and the weather should be great,” Mainieri said.
Saints Head Coach Sean Payton joined Bobby Hebert and me for a chat following the team's rookie minicamp on Airline Drive.
Coach Payton told us the session went well.
“You have a short period of time to do that and the three days we had gave us a really good opportunity to look at some young guys," Payton said. "We also had our players from the practice squad last year participate in it. So I think we got that done, there are a handful of guys that made a pretty good impression, and I think it worked out well.”
He also agreed with Bobby about not being too judgmental about players at rookie camp, given that one long-term standout Saints player in particular didn't have that great of a rookie camp.
“I think we have to be very cautious about coming to any conclusions one way or the other. Over the years, there are a number of examples like Marques Colston where a player comes in and maybe he’s not in the best of shape, but there is a reason for that. I think, more than anything, (this) is really teaching them how we practice, how we teach, how we install, and then making sure they understand that they are behind, all these guys, regardless of if they have been drafted or not."
We also asked Coach about a player whom fans might not know about that he's eager to see more of.
“I tell you what, there are a slew of guys, not only that the fans aren’t familiar with, I’m just barely getting familiar with," Payton said. "I think a handful of our practice squad guys that went to this past camp, for me it was the first time in three years that we’ve had this, that I’ve been involved in this camp, last year I wasn’t here and the year before was the lockout. So, I don't know if anyone is going to jump out, I think all of these guys understand the importance of special teams and the first way to get on this team, if you are a backup, is in the kicking game."
Coach also agreed with Bobby's observation that the team has its best success when there is a good balance between the run and pass on offense.
"Each year is a little bit different, but certainly we had balance and our most success when we have had a good run-pass ratio. When it gets tilted heavy to one end, it’s hurting more than just your offensive production; it begins to weigh on the defense and other elements of your team. I think we had that balance in ‘06. We were a different team then. Certainly in ‘09, when we also had the turnovers which were critical and had balance offensively."
LSU will play a three games series at College Station against the Aggies with game one of the series Thursday night here on Tiger Radio WWL.
LSU was a perfect 4-0 last week with wins over McNeese State and Florida. The Tigers beat the Cowboys in a midweek game 7-3 and then LSU swept the Gators. In three wins over Florida, the Tigers outscored the Gators 26-8.
The Tigers are now 43-6 overall on the season and in first place of the SEC West with a conference mark of 19-5.
Despite all the recent success, Coach Mainieri says he is concerned about Texas A&M.
“They may not have a great record but they are a very good team. We just have to go out and play well in each game,” he told me.
LSU will send one of the nation’s hottest pitchers to the mound in game two of the series when Aaron Nola goes to the hill for LSU. Nola has pitched four straight complete games and he is coming off his second shutout of the season as he guided the Tigers to a 5-0 shutout win over the Gators last Friday night.
The 3rd ranked LSU Tigers are gearing up for another big Southeastern Conference series when the Florida Gators come to town. Florida has been hot, winning their last three series. The Gators are 25-20 overall and 12-9 in SEC play. Florida swept South Carolina earlier this season.
Coach Paul Mainieri visited with Bobby Hebert and me on SportsTalk to talk about this hot SEC matchup. “They are a hot team right now and Florida always has great players,” Mainieri said. Florida was 11-16 at the end of March before posting a 14-4 record during the month of April.
Coach Mainieri announced his pitching rotation. He’ll send Cody Glenn to the mound for LSU Thursday night. Aaron Nola will pitch Friday. Ryan Eades will start for the Tigers in the series finale Saturday. You can listen to all the Tigers versus Gators games on WWL Radio (the BIG 870AM or 105.3 WWL-FM).
The Tigers lost their first SEC series of the season last weekend dropping two of three games to the South Carolina Gamecocks. “We have a lot to be proud of. It’s hard to win all of your series. We were able to bounce back with a nice win over McNeese to win our 40th game of the season.”
You can listen to the entire interview with Coach Mainieri by clicking here.