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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
#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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
"let's here the blank pads." "don't over run sh--". Hold that blank blank edge.". Coach Rob Ryan not happy with his defense right now!
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.
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."
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."
He’s been a part of winning a Super Bowl team before when he was coach linebacker with the New England Patriots, and now after his complete overhaul of the NFL’s worst defense ever in 2012, Rob Ryan is looking for more.
“We are trying to do something special here in New Orleans. And I want to be a small part of it,” Ryan said. Year two of the Ryan era brings very different expectations than what was expected a year ago.
The 2012 Saints defense had high expectations too after Steve Spagnuola was hired to lead the Saints defense. Although Spags did not have a lot of success as a head coach in the NFL, he was noted around the league for being one of the better defensive coaches.
Not after 2012, sadly. The Saints defense gave up 7,042 total yards, breaking the Baltimore Colts 31-year-old record when the horseshoes allowed a league-worst 6,793 yards of offense. To say expectations were kind of low for the Saints defense entering 2013 would be an understatement.
But then what transpired was another history making year for the Saints defense. Rob Ryan was fired in Dallas, hired in New Orleans, and then became largely responsible for the greatest turnaround in NFL history.
A unit that ranked 31st or last in every major stat in 2012 finished the 2013 season as the 4th best defense. The Saints gave up 440.1 yards per game in 2012 - but last season Ryan’s defense allowed 134 yards less per contest, surrendering 305 yards each week. The Saints shaved more than nine points on their scoring average, giving up only 19 points per game. They went from 31st to 2nd in pass defense, giving up 194 yards per outing. And the Saints rush defense improved from 32nd to 19th giving up 111.6 yards to opposing offenses each week. In 2012 the defense allowed 28.4 points per game and gave up on average 292.6 passing yards per game for 31st in the NFL. And New Orleans gave up 147.6 rushing yards each week in 2012, which was dead last in the NFL.
Ryan’s 3-4 scheme flipped the script and made the Saints defense one that went from being laughed at to one that was feared and respected. Now, the Saints defense is among the league’s elite.
So how much better can Ryan be in 2014?
“I think I have to be a lot better. The nice thing is, with our staff, it’s easy to be really good. We’ve got to be better. We’ve got to learn our team as fast as we can. I think that’s the biggest thing. Preseason is making sure you keep the right players, and evaluating them, getting their strengths, and finding out exactly our identity on defense. Every year is different. We’ve got a lot to prove this year, and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
And how can the Saints defense get better?
“There is always an ebb and flow to training camp. There’s days and or periods in practice where one side of the ball does well, or the other side doesn’t. I think the more important big picture is we are constantly looking to get better each day. Statistically the comparisons from last year to this year, those aren’t as important as the results and so it might mean week two we have to play a game a certain way and week six it might be an entirely different way. The key is to win and I think that is the main objective, each week that can vary and how to do that. All of us want to improve from a year ago. We are looking to really do that in our time here and during the preseason,” said head coach Sean Payton.
The numbers have the Saints ranked among the top five defensive units in the game today. But New Orleans needs to pump up the volume when it comes to creating turnovers. And Rob Ryan and his defenders know that.
“We’ve got to take away the ball. Like Seattle, that loss still haunts us. We’re still mad about it, beating ourselves up about it because we feel like if we had a turnover or one or two takeaways that game, it would’ve been a whole different game. But that’s the past, and we know that now we have to take the ball away. We can’t just be a dominant defense and get off the field. We have to get the ball back in Drew’s hands, number one offense, for them to keep going.”
Saints DE Junior Gallette’s eyes lit up when asked what the Saints defense needs to improve on in 2014. Gallette was a big reason why the Saints defense made a big turnaround in 2013. From to the first workout, to the first OTA, to the start of training camp, the Saints, their coaches and their players are putting a strong emphasis on creating turnovers at a higher rate this season.
NFL offenses average 14 possessions each week. Creating turnovers would not only limit the amount of possession the Saints opposing team’s get, but it would give New Orleans' dangerous offense a chance to get more looks, which can only be a good thing.
The Saints defense raised their expectations in 12 months from bottom of the barrel to high on the hog. The players are there, the right coach is leading the way. And now, New Orleans has the task of going out and proving that last year was not a fluke. It was just a sign of things to come. And the Who Dat Nation is counting on those things being very good ones!
A nickname is defined as a descriptive name added to or replacing the actual name of a person, place or thing - a familiar or shortened form of a proper name.
In covering training camp the last 12 years, I've come to learn that if you're not excited, energetic or hyped about what you are doing then you probably shouldn't be there. The idea is to come up with something that is relevant, meaningful and worthy of writing, talking about and reading. So in my personal blog today I wanted to focus on nicknames. Sometimes when you're at practice, you don't need to open your mouth to learn many things - you can just listen closely to the things that are happening around you.
"Where is Westbank at?" "C-Lo get'em ready!" "Goodie you got it?" I hear stuff like that yelled on a daily basis. C-Lo is LB Curtis Lofton. Westbank is Saints CB Keenan Lewis. And of course Goodie is center Jonathan Goodwin.
In sports, nicknames are as common as balls and whistles! Nicknames in sports give us a close feel or connection, something we sometimes become accustomed to - they are a part of the game. Since I’ve been covering the Saints, several nicknames have stood out to me the last few years.
Like "I-Hop" (Carl Nicks). Carl said people called him I-Hop because he used to pancake-block opposing linemen. "Chunk" was the name given to former Saints O-lineman Jermon Bushrod. Bushrod was called "Chunk" because he was a chunky fellow back in the day.
And of course, "City Champ" is one all Who Dats know. Hall of Fame great Rickey Jackson was called City Champ because he used to say "Before you can be a state champ, a national champ or a Super Bowl champ, you gotta be a city champ first!"
Longtime Sports Illustrated writer Peter King was checking out Saints Practice Today. His Monday Morning QB online column is perhaps the most popular in all of sports today. So far, King has visited the Bills, Giants, Ravens, and Eagles, and his next stop will be to check on the Carolina Panthers. “I don’t get out as much as I used to, but when it’s all said and done, I will have watched 24 teams practice during training camp,” King told me and Bobby Hebert.
The first few days of camp are in the books! Now two more full days take place before the Black and Gold have their first day off on Wednesday.
On a lighter note, I’d like to give a much deserved thank you to Justin Macione. Justin (we call him J-Mac) is a football communications manager for the Saints, and sometime during today’s practice, I dropped my medicine near the Saints practice facility. For those of you who have followed me over the years, you may have heard me mention I’ve had some health issues to deal with.
Being away from home, all my medicine is accounted for each day, and to lose it... well, for those of you who have to take meds on a daily basis know what I am talking about. To make a long story short, after practice I could not find my medicine and I drove all the way back to the Greenbrier from Lewisburg and looked all over the field and the facility. As I began to get into panic mode I get a text from Justin - he said he found my bottle of medicine on the ground. Whew, what a relief. Thanks J-Mac, I’m truly grateful!
I am also truly grateful to all of the kind folks up here as they have been treating us great. I do miss home but at least it’s nice to be around good down-home country folks. Til next time – Who Dat!
Anyone who knows football has heard a coach or a player yell "we are live and in color." That means that the players are in full pads, and real contact is about to happen.
On a cool overcast morning at the Advocare Facility, the Saints donned full pads for the first time. "This ain't no rookie over here," yelled Saints DE Junior Gallette. Gallette was yelling to new Saints FB Erik Lorig as the offense and defense squared off against each other during the inside drill.
The inside drill focuses on running the football and stopping the run. I'd give the Saints offense the win in that exchange, as RB's Mark Ingram, Khriy Robinson and Tim Flanders all reeled off big runs.
After stretching, the Saints then worked in position groups warming up for the first padded session. The Saints D-linemen were on the far end of the field in a corner hitting the sled. After everybody hit the sled, DE Cam Jordan asked "Bill, can we get another rep?" Jordan wanted to hit the sled one more time before the team went into live action.
The inside drill then took place and special teams work followed right afterwards, with another session of team offense versus team defense following that. As practiced continued you could see dark clouds approaching with the threat of rain getting stronger.
It does not take much to get his motor running, but when the Saints put on the pads, the Cajun Cannon is full throttle, wide open. “I always look forward to padded practices. The players know it’s a different level out there and padded practices are much more physical than others.”
Bobby said that the offense got off to a good start in one-on-one drills and during the inside run drills. The wide receivers made nice grabs and got good separation.
WR Seantavius Jones had a good day with a nice grab. Jones is off to a good start at camp and has taken advantage of his opportunities in off season work.
In special teams works, the Cajun Cannon pointed out the importance of covering kicks. “I know it seems not as action packed as other parts of practice, but covering kicks is very important. Coach McMahon is looking to make sure that all the players are in their lanes covering kickoffs. If you are not in the right place, you could get burned on a kickoff.”
Bobby also gave kudos to Rafael Bush and Ramon Humber. Both Bush and Humber forced turnovers in the morning practice. Humber picked off QB Luke McCown - Bush knocked the ball back in bounds and Champ Bailey was the recipient.
Hokie’s gave the Saints O-line the edge against the Saints D-Line during the inside drill this morning: “The offense had several nice runs, and the backs were able to gain some good yards.”
“Players look forward to putting on the pads. I thought the defense responded well after not looking so good yesterday,” he continued. Hokie said it was good to see the Saints defense force a few turnovers.
Heavy rain forced Coach Sean Payton to hit the final horn a little earlier than expected, but Hokie says that the Saints were able to accomplish what they were looking to do. “All in all, I thought it was a good day. The rain did cut the practice short, but I thought the team was able to get in some good work in pads.”
The Saints will practice two times on Monday. The first practice is from 8:50 to 11:40AM and then the Saints will have an afternoon walkthrough.
Even when the Saints defense became the worst ever in 2012, he was the lone bright spot. As he enters his fourth season in the NFL, Saints DE Cam Jordan is making the move to elite status among NFL defenders.
“If every year you’re not aiming for the Super Bowl, then what are you aiming for? The point of the football season is to bring home that championship, and honestly, that’s what we’re here to do,” Jordan said.
Cam heard his name called back in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft, and since that point, he has blossomed into one of the best players on the roster. After a career season in which #94 totaled 15 sacks (12.5 regular season/2.5 playoffs) Cam is a big reason why the Saints defense had the best turnaround since the NFL merger took place way back in 1970.
“We’re not here to be a good defense, we’re here to be the best defense. We’re not here to a good offense, we’re here to be the best. We’re all here to be the best that we can be, and so the highest achievement we can get is a Super Bowl.” Jordan spoke to the media after the Saints first practice at the Greenbrier in West Virginia.
“Cam has improved each season for us. He has become a leader and his play speaks for itself,” said Saints defensive line coach Jim Johnson. In three seasons Cam Jordan has piled up 155 tackles, 24 sacks and he has batted down 11 passes.
Cam is more comfortable in year two of being under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. “Rob Ryan, from the jump, just came in and put in his defense, but implemented everyone’s best talents in that defense. I think he just brings out the best in a lot of different people, and that’s what you get.”
Jordan is one player that has steadily improved each season in the NFL, and in 2013 Cam had his best season yet. The former Cal Bear was named to the Pro-Bowl after recording 12.5 sacks and 66 tackles for the Saints.
Cam added 11 more stops and 2.5 more sacks in the Saints two playoffs games last post season. Jordan believes that the Saints defense can be even better this season with the additions of some new faces.
“We picked up Jairus (Byrd). We picked up Champ (Bailey). That automatically brings a higher level of competition with the defensive backs. Of course on the defensive line, you have Akiem (Hicks) coming into his third year. I’m pretty excited about that. You got Junior (Galette) getting ready. A couple of the first year guys showed some major talent: John Jenkins and Glenn Foster. They’re going into their second year and that’s sort of where the jump happens. For the defense, it’s really exciting to be a part of that, just to see the transition.”
When he arrived in New Orleans the Saints were basically known around the league as an offensive team. But after finishing with the 4th best defense in 2013 the Saints defense is starting to get a little deserved attention. And #94 Cam Jordan is a player that other teams better pay close attention to as Jordan has quickly become an elite player in this league.
The Saints got back to work this morning at the Advocare Facility at the Greenbrier, and after stretching, the team then worked on drills in position groups. I checked out the Saints defensive linemen. After praising his players on day one, Saints D-line coach Bill Johnson felt like he was not getting the maximum effort from his players. "I know how to spread the red ass. This is an important drill," yelled Johnson.
The D-linemen were working on pass rushing techniques among each other. "It's an important drill because we are trying to get as many good looks as we can before we get into live action," said Saints D-line coach Bill Johnson. The Saints defense did not have a good practice this morning as defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said his defense got their butts kicked this morning. Ryan addressed the media after practice.
After position group work, the horn sounded and the Saints went into the team portion of practice. The Saints offense took on the Saints defense on the far fields at the practice facility. On the first play, QB Drew Brees hit WR Andy Tanner for what looked to be about a seven yard gain. Then, on the very next play, the defense blew up a would-be reverse by the offense.
A host of Saints defenders led by Rafael Bush stopped WR Robert Meachum in the backfield for a big loss on the play. RB Khiry Robinson then took a handoff and exploded off the left side for a nice gain.
The best play by the offense came next when Brees hit WR Nick Toon for a 25 yard gain. Toon slipped past the LB's and beat David Hawthorne. Brees laid the ball perfectly in Toon's hands.
The overall play of the day came when TE Jimmy Graham snagged a one handed catch while in traffic, then turned upfield and went in for a score with an exclamation point dunk over the goal post.
The first thing that the Cannon pointed out to me was the play of RB Khiry Robinson. "Robinson looks real good out there. He's a shifty back and he looks to be in tip top shape." Robinson just continues to use his speed and cuts in making nice runs at each practice.
Bobby gave the Saints offense the edge at today's practice. "You could hear coach Ryan (Rob) and coach Vitt (Joe) yelling at the defense. The offense definitely had the upper hand today."
LB Rufus Johnson Jr. was a bright spot, as he picked up a sack at practice, and CB Patrick Robinson looked good as he broke passes on back-to-back plays during team drills.
"LB Kyle Knox did a good job as he knocked the ball out of Brandin Cooks hands. I thought that Junior Gallette looked good when he stopped WR Robert Meachum on a reverse this morning."
Bobby also liked rookie WR Brandin Cooks' play today. "He really does a good job of plucking the ball out of the air. Cooks can have a good year if he keeps moving in the right direction."
Hokie Gajan got a birds eye view of today's morning practice, watching from the stands where the fans are permitted to sit during practice.
"I like the view from up there. It allows me to see things open up and really focus in on certain areas of the game." Hokie said that the Saints should be better this season in the kick and punt return department.
"They have a lot of speed back there, and whoever they decided to go with will give the Saints a good opportunity to get good field position." RB Khiry Robinson, and WR's Charles Hawkins and Brandin Cooks were the main players fielding punts and kicks during special team's work this morning.
Hokie said that the Saints are continuing to work on their running game and stopping the run in the early phases of team drills. "The entire first team period was devoted to working on the run game. All the plays were runs. And this gives the coaches an idea of who's in the right place and who's on the play when they break down film after practice."
Hokie said that once the Saints put on the full pads, he will be able to judge better which side of the ball is winning those run drill battles. Overall, Hokie says "It was another pretty good day out there. The weather was once again nice and I thought it was a productive practice."
You know sometimes when you're at practice, and you hear a loud beep beep beep sound? That's a cherry picker, and three of them sit above the field and each one has a cameramen on board.
Those cameramen are filming practice from different angles. One angle is a sideline view, and the other two are end-zone looks. As you know, the NFL is all business, and time is of the essence. Just like the hands on a clock ticking, each second of practice is accounted for, and a lot of what is done off the field to better prepare during camp largely depends on the practice film.
Usually after a few drills or periods, the cameraman at each station takes the DVD out of his camera. He then places that DVD inside a NERF ball and throws it down to the field. From there, a staff member scoops up the ball and runs it inside to the Saints video department. And then those people inside begin to break down each play and phase of each practice for the coaches.
Some coaches are looking for special things, and the cameramen are taught to record what that particular position coach is looking for. And then when the team meetings take place, they roll that beautiful bean footage so everyone can take a close, careful look at what players are doing.
He’s as cool as the other side of the pillow. He’s someone that leads by example. And he’s a dude that lets his play do all the talking. As he enters his seventh season in the NFL, LB Curtis Lofton knows that the Saints have the potential to be a great team.
When it comes to individual production, it’s hard to knock anything about C-Lo’s game. In his first season in the NFL with the Falcons, Lofton recorded 94 tackles. That was his lowest season total of his six year career. Since that 2008 season, Lofton has recorded no less than 118 tackles each season.
Curtis was refreshed after the Saints first practice of the season. “I probably lost about eight pounds less today compared if we were in New Orleans,” Lofton said. Lofton and many other Saints players raved about the weather conditions at the Greenbrier.
But it isn't just the cool temps they love: “This is football. There are no distractions up here and we are able to totally focus on football. It’s a new season and I’m ready to get after it.” Curtis Lofton is truly a tackling machine and has been since 2008.
Lofton has averaged an impressive 123 tackles per season in six years in the league, with a career high 147 stops in 2011. He has 83 consecutive games at linebacker which is currently the fourth longest at his position. And last season, Lofton’s teammates selected him as a defensive captain prior to the 2013 season. He has an all-business style and attitude, and he is on a streak that makes him one of the most reliable and durable players in the game today.
Lofton is entering year three of a five year deal that he signed with the Saints back in March 2012. In 2013 Lofton had a season high 16 tackles against the New York Jets. And as he gets set to play this year, he says that last season and this season are like night and day in defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s scheme. “It’s easy now. The first year I was scrambling, going through all the checks in my head and now, it’s like second nature. I’m able to concentrate more on what the opposing offenses are trying to do to us and it allows me to play a lot faster,” Lofton said.
Curtis knows that he’s known around the league for being a stopping machine, and he’s just fine with that. “I definitely pride myself in getting tackles and getting to the football. But overall, I want to be a guy that puts my team in the best situation, and for other guys to be able to succeed.”
Lofton is not really concerned with any hype or talk about him, he just wants to go out and do his job. “I just want to be a player that when my number is called, I get the job done. I never want to miss a play. I love football.”
And Curtis Lofton has been as consistent as a player in this league as you will find. And perhaps this season Curtis Lofton will find that Super Bowl ring he has been searching for!
Ah, waking up to a balmy 53 degrees in the morning, it has to be November right? Well, my good people, it’s amazing how a little drop in the temp can get your blood flowing. Today I woke up and in beautiful Lewisburg, West Virginia.
To say that day one of training camp was nice would be a vastly understatement. Today was the first day I had a chance to check out the Saints' new facility here at the Greenbrier and I came away impressed. And then later in the day I had a chance to talk to the man largely responsible for the Saints coming to West Virginia, Jim Justice.
“This is a huge deal for the Greenbrier. This is a huge deal for the entire state of West Virginia. I’m sure that there are folks out there that love our state as much as I do. But there is no one that loves West Virginia more than me. I know having an NFL team here is great for us all.”
Jim couldn’t be more grateful and excited about the Saints holding training camp at the Greenbrier for three years. He raved about having the Saints at his resort and he thinks that things will only get better with the Black and Gold practicing here the next three summers.
On the field, WR Brandin Cooks showed us a glimpse of his big play capability by hauling in a 45 yard grab from Drew Brees. Cooks should fit quite nicely into what the Saints do on offense. And for those of you looking for a quality candidate for rookie of the year, Brandin Cooks is not a bad choice!
As I see the corner of my room, I’ve noticed it’s time to hit the laundry. You know we all have our own way of doing things - well, I love to wash clothes. My tip to you is wash your clothes in cold water and always let your clothes hang dry. I use a good fabric softener and then let my clothes hang - they will hold their size better and their color will stay intact longer.
Now if I was back home, I’d be listening to some Luther Vandross and have some sweet smelling candles lit while I get my wash on. Hey, it’s what I do! I hope that all of you are doing well back home. Til tomorrow – Who Dat!
The first day of Saints training camp could not have gotten off to a better start. "I've never been able to do this," said Saints color analyst Hokie Gajan, speaking about wearing sweatpants and a long sleeve shirt to the first practice. The early morning temps were in the 50's and practice was spectacular in the cool and breezy 70's.
The Saints got done with practice a little bit before 11am and then ran sprints during conditioning. Saints WR Kenny Stills did leave the field this morning with what coach Payton described as a leg injury.
One of the highlights of the morning practice came when rookie WR Brandin Cooks hauled in a deep ball for a TD. Cooks had the fans cheering with his nice grab for a score. After stretching, the Saints broke off into individual groups. I was able to stand directly in front of the Saints D-Line.
"Beautiful. I'm telling you that's beautiful!" That's what D-Line coach Bill Johnson yelled to his linemen after drills. These guys were part of the amazing turnaround the unit had going from 32nd in the NFL to 4th in 2013.
The Saints worked on run defense and RB Mark Ingram had couple of nice cuts running the football. Later, RB Travarius Cadet took a handoff and then made a nice cutback for a big gain. It didn't take long for the Brees-to-Graham connection to get on track; Brees threw a nine yard strike to Graham in the highest paid TE's first catch since signing his four-year deal.
Defense got off to a good start in team drills too; DE Junior Gallette, DT Akiem Hicks and DE Cam Jordan were all in on sacks this morning.
"I did not see any real bad plays or negative things this morning. I thought that the practice had a good pace, I did not see any penalties committed, and to me it was a good crisp practice."
Hokie was impressed with what he saw from rookie WR Brandin Cooks. "Boy, you can tell that Brandin Cooks has that game-breaking speed. He made a real nice catch out there today. Gajan says that WR Nick Toon had a nice practice this morning as well, picking up from his solid play during OTA's and mini-camp.
Bobby says the players have to be excited to be in these conditions. "You've got to work real hard to break a sweat out here, the weather is awesome!" Hebert recalled being in similar weather when he was playing in the USFL. When he played with the Oakland Invaders he practiced in similar weather conditions.
"One of the best plays of the day was a hook-up from Drew Brees to WR Nick Toon," Hebert said, after Drew threw a 20-yard strike over the Toon's back shoulder. But Bobby's favorite play of the day involved Drew Brees and WR Brandin Cooks. "Cooks made a great catch. He leaped in the air and caught the ball at it's highest point," hauling in a 45 yard gain for a score.
Bobby also spoke about Cam Jordan, who spoke to the media after today's practice. "Cam Jordan has a chance to become one of the elite defenders in the game. He has improved each season since he has been with the Saints, and I expect him to only get better this season."
Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro spoke to the media too, and Bobby thinks that a healthy Vaccaro along with a healthy Jairus Byrd could give New Orleans one of the best safety tandems in the NFL. "We've not seen them together on the field yet, but I think they are going to compliment each other well."
The Big Chief's final analysis
The first hurdle has been jumped. This weather should help the Saints, as several players pointed out due to the fact that the weather is cooler, the players are expecting to get more work handed to them from coach Sean Payton.
"We did a few more sprints during conditioning. If we had been in hotter tempetatures, I don't know if we would have done that many. Coach Payton is going to push us and that will only make us better," said offensive tackle Zach Strief.
You can see that the Saints will not hold back when it comes to unleashing speedy rookie WR Brandin Cooks, whose ability is another weapon that will allow Sean Payton to be even more creative with his play calling.
The Saints have a walkthrough session this evening, then another full practice in the morning at the Greenbrier. Sunday things get a little more interesting as the Black and Gold will don pads for the first time.
If people back home get the idea that the Saints are practicing at a big time facility, they are right. “This is an incredible place. This is as nice a venue as any team in any sport can be holding camp at,” said Saints Color Analyst Hokie Gajan.
The Greenbrier is all that and then some but why exactly did the Saints come up here to have training camp? “First of all, we wanted to do something different,” said Saints GM Mickey Loomis. “I think it energizes your players and your staff when you do something different every three or four years. The second thing was that we wanted to get to a place with a better climate and see if that impacted our team in terms of soft-tissue injuries and some of the other things that we did. Those were the two factors in why we wanted to change venues, and once we got a look at this region and this area, it made a lot of sense for us.”
The Saints will practice at the Greenbrier for about three weeks before coming back to the Big Easy for their first home preseason game against the Titans on August 15.
The Cajun Cannon fired off a few questions at today’s opening press conferences held by Loomis and coach Sean Payton. Bobby asked Mickey if he thought that this Saints team might be the best team in Saints history, as some people are claiming that. Loomis is not buying into it: “I don’t pay a lot of attention to that, because no one said that in 2009 when we won the Super Bowl. They weren’t saying we had the best roster that year, and yet, in my mind, that was the best result the Saints have ever had. That was our best team ever, right? I don’t pay a lot attention to that.”
Loomis continued by saying that the Saints have to get things done on the field. “You still have to come together as a team, you need to have the right chemistry, you have to have the right things happen for your club. There are just so many variables that your roster on paper is just kind of meaningless to us at this point. We like our team. We like the guys we have in our locker room. We love our coaching staff. I feel like we’ve got a great chance to compete going into this training camp, but there are a lot of variables.”
Coach Payton spoke to the media for nearly forty minutes answering a variety of questions. When asked if he thought his team had carried any momentum with them from the off season work, he said “the way the springs are set up now for every team, you have a harder gauge because of the OTA work. I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing, it just is what it is. You don’t have as many practice snaps, and you’re never in pads. It’s hard to come out of the spring and say ‘I feel like the team’s here.’ How many times did you guys ask a question in the spring and I said, ‘Well, we have to wait until we get the pads on?’ Khiry (Robinson) was a great example. If you asked me last year at this time how I felt about his progress coming out of the spring, it was okay. All of the sudden the pads came on (and) he was a different type runner than we expected, and that kind of defined him."
"I think the same can be said for your team a little bit, until you really begin the process of getting into a scrimmage and playing your first preseason game. Marques Colston is another great example. His spring compared to the training camp in ’06 his rookie year where he earned a starting job were two totally different experiences for him… one positive and one negative. So as a team, I think that’s going to begin to unfold now. It’s a little bit harder for a head coach to gauge where you’re at. The first thing you look at is your health, and I feel pretty good about that. The ability to sign Jimmy, those things that you can control during the offseason and begin to kind of get ready for what is the start of training camp. If that’s a fair answer, I think it’s more challenging now.”
The Cajun Cannon is stoked bout the start of camp. “I do get excited this time of year. This is the start of a new season and expectations are high. There are some good battles that will take place at various positions and once the team gets into pads things will really heat up.”
So now the main goal of finding the best 53 players begins with the first practice of training camp upon us. Over the next four weeks the Saints will try to find the right mix of players that can come together and be a part of what is expected to be a very good season.
Everyone has checked in, the opening pressers have taken place, and now it’s time to hit the field. Football practice begins Friday at the Greenbrier, and expectations have never been higher for the New Orleans Saints.
Of course there is no place like home, but folks, it’s nice up here. The people have been super friendly, the food has been excellent and the weather is amazing. I’ve never known what it has felt like to not be miserable and hot in July. The low’s are in the 50’s right now, and the highs are in the upper 70’s and lower 80’s the next few days.
Here are a few tips for those Who Dats that may happen to be coming up this way during training camp. If you want to drive the full 14 hours in one day then go right ahead. However, you will find that if you break up the trip in two days you will be much more rested when you arrivive in West Virginia.
Jim, Hokie and I drove about nine hours on Monday and then stopped off Sevierville, Tennessee to spend the night. There are several hotels right off the Sevierville exit and if you have time you may be able to catch the Smokies play some minor league baseball.
We then got a good night's sleep, had breakfast the next morning, and drove the final five and half hours to Lewisburg, West Virginia. It’s a beautiful drive, and the sights in the mountains are truly breathtaking. Lewisburg is the place to stay if you’re coming watch the Black and Gold. Lewisburg is a quaint little town that has a lot of mom and pop businesses, plenty of places to sleep, good eating establishments, and the people up here are good, kind folks.
From restaurants to arts and crafts to boutiques, Lewisburg has a little something for everyone. Sports Talk broadcasted from Slammin Sammy’s today. This venue is plush. Beautiful hardwood floors, scenic views of the golf course and great food can be found here at Sammy’s. Slammin Sammy’s is named after legendary golfer Sam Snead, who had a long history up here at the Greenbrier. Snead was hired as an assistant Golf Pro back in 1936 for $45 per month.
As the photo shows, the Cajun Cannon and I feasted on some chicken wings on day one. Hey, you can take the boys out of the country but - well y’all know the rest! So if you’re coming this way, e-mail us and let us know and we will be on the lookout for ya! Hope everyone back home is doing just fine.
Eleven players will battle for a handful of roster spots at the wide receiver position. The wise veteran Marques Colston is going to be in the mix, top draft pick Brandin Cooks is expected to have an instant impact, and Kenny Stills should be a lock; but the rest of the group is a tossup.
Veteran WR Robert Meachum has the experience and leadership in his favor. Joe Morgan has speed, which is something you can’t coach, but he's coming off an injury that kept him on the sidelines in 2013.
Then there is WR Nick Toon, who has all the ability of an NFL WR, and he sure looks the par,t but so far he's been more of a disappointment than an asset. Toon needs to have a good camp or he could be somewhere else come September.
Other players in the battle for a roster spot include Andy Tanner and Charles Hawkins. Both of those players were on the Saints practice squad in 2013, and being with the Saints coaches for a year should give them some sort of a leg up.
Steve Hull is a free agent from Illinois, Brandon Coleman is from Rutgers, and Seantavious Jones hails from Valdosta State. All three signed on as free agents and all are going to camp with the Black and Gold.
Of these 11 wide receivers I can see nine of them in the NFL in some way shape or form in 2014. There are only so many spots to go around, and whichever WR can bring the most to the table will wind up on the roster.
Many so-called underdog players have made the Saints roster by making an impact on special teams. Nick Toon needs to use his 6'4" frame to his advantage, and Morgan's near 38 yards per catch from 2012 can be a huge plus to this group. Still, overcoming two ACL injuries in the last three seasons is hard to do.
With the nation’s best WR in Brandin Cooks, an improved Kenny Stills, and the reliable Colston, the Saints could have one of the most balanced and complete wide receiver cores in the NFL.
Having Drew Brees throwing the football and a player like Jimmy Graham opening things up does not hurt. I’d say entering the season that Colston, Stills and Cooks are locks. Meachum, Morgan and Toon are several steps ahead of the rest of the pack.
And the other five players will have to make the most of their time catching the football, or better yet, catching the attention of special teams coach McMahon. That will be equally important for the five long shots to make the Saints roster this season.
The team has arrived in West Virginia, and after they check in and go through a conditioning test, the Black and Gold will take the field at the Greenbrier.
There is excitement, optimism and high expectations for all 32 teams in the NFL right now, but realistically, there are the good teams, the bad teams, and the teams that have a chance to be great. Many national analysts are pegging the Saints to be one of a handful of teams that could become a great team this year.
After an 11-5 regular season in 2013 that saw the Saints win their first ever road playoff game, the Saints gave the eventual champion Seahawks a good fight, and expectations are higher in the Who Dat Nation then they have been in a while.
"The Saints are an elite team. Teams that are considered to be contenders year in and year out are elite. The Saints have been to the playoffs in four of the last five seasons, and that is in elite status," said the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert.
New Orleans has won 11 or more games in the regular season in four of the last five seasons. And the current Saints hype is not just about their offense; the Saints are bringing back a stout defense too.
"The turnaround last season speaks volumes! Just look at the numbers. The Saints D went from 32nd in 2012 to #4 in 2013. That was impressive," said Saints Color Analyst Hokie Gajan.
Our resident pros both like the idea of being away from home for training camp. "There are not as many outside distractions. Certain things that a player would have to deal with back home will not be affecting them while they are here," Gajan said.
Hokie told me that he's looking forward to seeing how much faster-paced the Saints will be in the first wave of camp. "They did some things during mini-camp and OTA's that they have not done so early in the past. Things are even faster now, and the goal is to get the best 53 players on the roster."
Hokie is also looking forward to seeing the action at the RB position. "They have a deep group. Pierre Thomas is a veteran player that has just about seen it all in seven seasons in the NFL. Mark Ingram finished the season better in 2013 then he has in the past. And Khiry Robinson was impressive last season when given the opportunity. Travaris Cadet makes the position an even tougher battle, and guys like Strozier (Derrick) and Flanders (Tim) have both looked good at practice."
When it comes to this time of year, there are many things that alway get Bobby's blood pumping, but none more so than when the Saints lines battle each other.
The Cajun Cannon says fans should keep an eye on the one-on-one pass rushing drills. The one-on-ones take place several times during camp and pits the offensive and defensive lines going against each other. "There will only be one day in which the team does goal-line work. And when they do, it's the most heated and intense part of training camp. I look forward to that each year!"
Bobby says he wants to see if Cam Jordan and Junior Gallette can pick up where they left off last season when they both recorded double-digit sacks. "I think that Akiem Hicks can take another step forward, and I'll be watching to see how Glenn Foster does this season after making a big splash with the Saints at camp a year ago."
Thursday July 24th: Saints Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis addresses the media at 4:45PM, followed by Coach Sean Payton at 5PM.
Friday July 25th: Saints practice at The Greenbrier 8:50AM-11:40AM / Walk through practice from 4:30PM-5:30PM.
The Cajun Cannon made it here, and now, as they say, "the hay is in the barn." We are all up here in beautiful West Virginia and tomorrow we will hear from Mickey and Sean.
T-Bob and K-Dog and I walked over to Wal-Mart and made a few purchases. Later we rode with Jim and Hokie to check out where we'll be working at the Greenbrier. Man, the Greenbrier is one beautiful place. A nice cool front has set in and the team is here now. Folks in Lewisburg lined the streets to see the Black and Gold ride through town.
There were Black and Gold balloons, homemade signs and smiles on the faces of the locals. You see not only are people excited about having an NFL team here for the next three weeks, but the area should receive a boost in the local economy.
Jim Henderson and I stopped into an Irish pub on main street and it truly felt like home. There was some good New Orleans music playing in the background, and the pub had a section on the wall that featured a Fats Domino poster! I saw a Jazz Fest poster and Mardi Gras items as well.
These folks know who we are, and I truly feel like they are glad to have us all here. Now the batteries are fresh and in our recorders, cameras are charged and ready to go and we got plenty of pen and paper.
Another training camp is here and now it's time to bring you the meat and potatoes each day. Remember, you don't have to wait all the way till 4pm to get the latest on the Black and Gold. Krisitan and T-Bob will broadcast live up here everyday from 6am-9am on 3WL. Those two have a good plan and a lot of good things to give you each day. Check them out!
Then of course I'll be along with our resident pros Hokie and Bobby each day on Sports Talk. We will give you the 411 on the Saints, but we also we plan on adding a little more fun flavor to the mix this year.
Hope all is well back home. Until tomorrow - Who Dat!
We are in a town called Lewisburg, just a few minutes away from the Greenbrier where the Saints will be holding training camp. We all have our own way of doing things, so after we unloaded the truck I walked around. There are no sidewalks in our area, but those of you who grew up in the country would love it. You walk in the grass up and down these hills to get around.
I walked to the Wal-Mart, got a few TV dinners, some oranges, milk, Milk Duds, Starburst, conditioner and lemons. I'm old school, I can make it on five dollars or five hundred dollars.
I set up my room like I want it. Since we are here for the next three weeks, I figure I'd better get things to my liking. I've got all of my chargers, recorders, computers, iPad, camera, etc.
Now I'll catch up on a few things for the web, map out stuff for the season, and get my body clock right. I just finished a little piece on all teams in the NFC South as they all open their training camps.
Training Camp is three weeks of working on a pretty tight schedule. If you don't get you're rest, you'll pay for it later. Early to bed, early to rise.
For those of you coming this way, I noticed that this weekend the highs are only in the mid 70's and the lows are in the lower 50's, so bring some long sleeves. And if you think about it, bring me some hot sauce.
Let me go, I've got to get everything just right before my co-host the Cajun Cannon flies in. Until next time. Who Dat!
Missouri Tigers: Even in his wildest dreams, head coach Gary Pinkel would have not envisioned what his Tigers did last season. And then Cinderella arrived!
The Tigers went to the SEC title game and were one of a handful of teams that had a shot to play in the national title game, had they won the SEC Championship. The Tigers lost a high scoring affair to Auburn, but Missouri's story was an incredible one to follow.
They had their best season in history, posting 12 wins, a spot in the SEC title game, and a Cotton Bowl victory. Missouri won seven more games in 2013 than the five win total they earned in their first season in SEC play back in 2012.
Missouri's offense will have the luxury of bringing back QB Maty Mauck. Mauck came in last season and did well while QB James Franklin was out with an injury. Mauck threw for over one thousand yards and 11 TD's, and brings a solid skill set to the Tigers, as he can elude defenders with his feet. Mauck rushed for 229 yards and a TD in 2013. He will have to get familiar with three new WR's this season - all three of the Tigers' leading receivers are no longer with the team, and that is a bit of concern.
The Tigers do have some experience at RB with Marcus Murphy and Russell Hansbourgh back in the fold.
Over on defense, the Tigers were hit hard by the draft and graduation. In my opinion, the best player on the Tigers defense was Kony Ealy, who is now in the NFL. Same with the Co-SEC Defensive Player of the year in Michael Sam. Both players had great seasons in 2013 and their leadership is going to be missed.
In 2013 LB Kentrell Brothers emerged as a legit defender. As a sophomore, Brothers had 70 stops along with three interceptions. The top returning pass rushers are DE's Markus Golden and Shane Ray. Golden and Ray combined for 11 QB sacks last year.
The Tigers' schedule sets up for Missouri to once again get off to a hot start. I can see a 5-0 start occurring before a big road trip to South Carolina takes place. Then the Tigers have an off week before hosting UGA and then going back on the road to take on the Gators. If the Tigers can come out of that three game stretch 2-1, I think that Missouri will once again be a factor in the SEC East title hunt.
Alabama Crimson Tide: When you start a season 11-0 and lose your last two games, that is still a great season, right? Not in Alabama! Love them or hate them, Alabama is the most consistent football program in the game today, and I don' t think their roll will stop anytime soon. Alabama will walk back onto the gridiron as the favorite to win the national title. Not many programs, if any, could lose a solid veteran QB in A.J. McCarron and still be the favorite, but Bama is doing it!
I do think that replacing A.J. is going to be much more difficult than most expect. Even though the Tide will support their new starting QB with an abundant amount of weapons, having a calm, cool, "been there done that" guy in the huddle and under center is something that is irreplaceable. Alabama has the luxury of grooming up their new QB without major pressure to come in and make plays.
Three excellent RB's are in the fold to lead the Tide offense. T.J. Yeldon (6.2 ypc) led the SEC in rushing last season with an average of 144 yards per game, while Kenyan Drake averaged a whopping eight yards per tote last season. Drake had some off-field issues earlier this summer but is expected to be with the team. And of course there is Derrick Henry, who was a bright spot in Alabama's 45-31 Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma. Henry carried the ball eight times for 100 yards and he hauled in a TD reception as well. Handing the ball off to either of those three RB's will make things much less stressful for the new QB and the new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.
Alabama also welcomes back the speedy Amari Cooper. Cooper averaged 18.4 yards per catch during his sophomore season and should be a big boost to the Tide air attack in 2014. Alabama has a couple of Louisiana boys at the WR spot and both could see some playing time.
Former Carver standout Raheem Falkins is a big 6-4 WR that could make an impact, and WR Cam Sims is from Monroe. Sims is another big target at 6-4 and he got to campus in the spring. Veteran WR DeAndrew White is back this season too.
Over on defense, the Tide just reload each season. LB Trey DePriest leads a solid core of LB's and DB Landon Collins could see his last season of playing for the Tide, as Collins is expected to be among the nation's elite defenders entering his junior season.
A'Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed both looked impressive in the Tide's A-Day spring game. Depth and experience is not a concern, as many players see valuable playing time when games are out of reach. And those times are when Nick Saban is at his best preparing his future starters for their time on the field.
Alabama opens the season with an interesting game against WVU. The Mountaineers are not expected to be among the better teams in the Big XII this season but WVU does some things on offense that can create problems.
The toughest part of the Tide's schedule takes place from early October through early November. Florida, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Tennessee and LSU appear in that stretch. The final game has the Tide hosting that other team from the state in the annual Iron Bowl.
Alabama would have to slip and fall not to be among the nation's elite team's. Road games at Ole Miss, Tennessee and LSU are intriguing but the Tide have been in so many big games at home and on the road that very little rattles this team.
Another run at the SEC Title and the national title are certainly in the forecast in 2014. Put it this way - you might hate Alabama, but nobody hates money. And wether it's you're money or my money, it would be wise to bet on this Tide to roll!
Ole Miss Rebels: After an exciting season that finished with wins over rival Mississippi State and a Bowl win in January of 2014, the fans of the Ole Miss Rebels are hyped about the 2014 season.
With one of the top recruiting classes in hand, including the nation's best player, the Rebels looked even more ready to become a serious player in the SEC Western Division going in to 2013.
But a 3-5 SEC mark that included a loss to rival MSU on Thanksgiving kind of put a damper on the Rebels eight win season. Ole Miss did beat LSU, and won eight games for the first time in four seasons, but I think the Rebels and coach Hugh Freeze were expecting more than that. Is 2014 the year the Rebels rise to the top in the SEC West?
The Rebels offense was OK last season, averaging 421.5 yards per game - but to only score 23 points per contest was disappointing. If the Rebels can be excited about one phase of their offense it has to be the passing attack and the return of veteran QB Bo Wallace. Wallace was second in the SEC averaging 283.4 yards passing per game and the Rebels were 2nd in the SEC as a team in passing yards last season.
Wallace is back and so is WR Laquon Treadwell. Treadwell was one of the best freshman players in all of CFB last season, and I think he was a top five WR in the nation in 2013. The freshman sensation was 2nd in the league averaging seven receptions per contest for the Rebels. WR Evan Engram is back too, and that should allow Wallace to have two legit targets going into the season.
At RB the return of I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton gives Ole Miss some good balance as both have good speed, and bring solid skill sets to the Rebels offense. Ole Miss finished 8th in the SEC in total offense this season and I look for the Rebels to have a top 5 unit in 2014.
The Rebels defense needs to improve. Allowing 422 yards per game and 28 points are not going to get the Rebels where they want to be in the stout SEC Western Division. It's easy to overlook the fact that the Rebels are still very young on this side of the football. Robert Nkemdiche had a nice season as a freshman but the nation's top high school recruit had to battle injuries and at times played like a freshman.
DE C.J. Johnson returns and should add pass rushing help to the Rebels front and does NT Issac Gross. Gross had 3.5 sacks last season and is expected to be better as a junior.
The Rebels defense saw a lot of young faces hit the field and the hope of playing so many young players is that they begin to pay off this season. Trae Elston and Tony Conner are two examples. SS Elston saw significant action during his sophomore season in which he averaged six tackles per game. And Conner recorded five tackles per game as a freshman in 2013.
The Rebels will know quite early how good they are to start 2014. I think the Rebels have one of the tougher schedules in all of CFB.
Five of the Rebels first six games are against teams that played in a bowl last season. The opener is a tough one against Boise State in Atlanta. Then the Rebels play at Vanderbilt before coming home to entertain a nine win ULL Ragin Cajun Team that is predicted to win their conference.
The Rebels annual tilt with nearby rival Memphis takes place before a biggie against Alabama. Now I cautiously say this, but if the Rebels could somehow be 4-0 when Alabama comes to Oxford, then it's on! Ole Miss got burned last season when they put all of their eggs in one basket and seemingly hinged the entire season on how they played against the Tide. It was not even close as Alabama wiped the floor with the Rebels.
Ole Miss is in a better place overall with their football program. Are the Rebels ready to become a serious consistent contender in the SEC West? We will find out!
Arkansas Razorbacks: After leading the Wisconsin Badgers to three straight Rose Bowls, Brett Bielema is not used to winning only three games in a season. Arkansas was 3-9 in 2013, but his second year brings better expectations and likely more wins for the Hogs.
The Arkansas offense will once again focus on rushing the football. RB Alex Collins led the Hogs last season with more than one thousand yards rushing, and he should get more attempts in 2014. RB Jonathan Williams returns after making a splash in 2013, averaging six yards per carry - he could become one of the best RB’s in the SEC this year.
At QB, it looks like Brandon Allen can be better than he was a season ago; a better rushing attack can help the junior QB. It’s not how many times Allen throws the football, it's how many completions he makes that counts. As a sophomore Allen completed less than 50% of his passes. That has to upgrade this season, or it could mean trouble.
Defensively, the Hogs can’t be any worse. Arkansas had to be jealous of A&M’s defense last year because the two were in a heated battle to see who was worse. Arkansas finished last, allowing 38 points and 475 yards per game.
Bielema hired former Tampa Bay LB’s Coach Robb Smith as defensive coordinator, and he has some talent to work with this season. The leading tackler from a season ago is back in LB Braylon Mitchell, who was among the elite defenders in the league in 2013, averaging eight stops per game. The Arkansas defensive secondary is better with the return of Alan Turner and Rohan Gaines.
Looking at the schedule, it’s hard to figure out what three games they can win. The first five games could have Arkansas off to a 1-4 start, and then on the back end there are dates with Alabama, UGA, Ole Miss, LSU and Missouri. Simply put, if Arkansas is going to be better this season, they'll have to win a lot of games they are not expected to.
Texas A&M Aggies: They've scored a lot of points and have set all kinds of historical SEC records on offense in the last two years, but the A&M defense has given up more yards over that span than the majority of the 125 FBS schools.
The man dubbed "Johnny Football" is gone, and one has to wonder - can the Aggies keep running track during fall afternoons in the SEC? First things first; if Texas A&M is going to be taken seriously, they have to improve on defense.
The Aggies ranked at or near the bottom of the SEC in all major stats last year, allowing 499 yards and 37 points per game. That won't cut it in the SEC. Hell, that won’t cut it anywhere. But look at the bright side - there is nowhere to go but up, right?
The A&M defense has a lot of Louisiana players on their team! Their best defender is DB Deshazor Everett, a former DeRidder star who has become a leader in the Aggies secondary and could be among the elite DB’s in the SEC this season. Fellow Louisiana product Noel Ellis is back and should be in the nickel package rotation. The Aggies did kick SEC All-Freshman standout Darrion Claiborne out for off-field issues, and that hurts.
The Aggies D-line gets a boost with the return of Myles Garrett, and look for De’Vante Harris to have a better season this year.
Over on offense, how can they replace "Johnny Football?" Well, you can’t. Even more bad news is that they can’t replace WR Mike Evans either. This double blow will hurt for quite some time. But Coach Kevin Sumlin is damn good, and he will be efficient on offense, as he always has been. Averaging 38.4 points per game and over 514 yards of offense is not going to happen without Manziel and Evans, but that doesn't mean the Aggies can't be effective this year.
RB Trey Williams returns and the debut of Oregon Transfer Tra Carson should help. Coming out of spring, there was a battle for the QB spot between Kyle Allen and Kenny Hill. Whomever Sumlin goes with will give the Aggies the best shot at being productive.
I don’t have to look at the Aggies schedule. The real question is A&M fall to the bottom of the SEC West? I’d bet yes. But even when he was in Houston with the Cougars, Kevin Sumlin was a big winner. Don’t count out the Aggies, at least as far as being a bowl caliber team in 2014.
Georgia Bulldogs: The Bulldogs were the favorite to get back to Atlanta in the SEC title game for a third straight season, but the Missouri Tigers shocked everyone, and the Bulldogs fell apart after a big win over LSU.
Still, Coach Mark Richt has a good core of players. Folks in Athens are extremely excited about the return of RB Todd Gurley. Many CFB analysts claim that Gruley is the best RB in the nation. He missed three games last season and still had 10 TD's and close to one thousand yards rushing. Gurley is the premiere back in the SEC and he could very well eclipse 1,500 yards this year.
Fellow RB Keith Marshall is quite the compliment to Gurley, and the two of them make will make the best RB tandem in the SEC. Defensive units will sweat preparing for them.
Right now, it looks like Hutson Mason will be the Bulldogs' starting QB. Hutson will have experience back at WR's in the form of Michael Bennett and Chris Conley. The UGA offense may not be as good as last season's unit that averaged 37 points per game, but they will still be very efficient.
The Bulldogs defense left a lot to be desired a year ago. Numbers can sometimes be misleading, and to me, that was the case in a year ago. Georgia was the 5th best defense in the SEC last season allowing on average 389 yards per game - but was was troubling was the 32 points per game the unit surrendered each week.
Mark Richt hired a new coordinator in Jeremy Pruitt. Pruitt's last two seasons coaching saw him win national titles with Alabama as DB's coach in 2012, and last season he was with Florida State. Pruitt is expected to have an immediate impact on the Bulldogs defense. UGA did record 33 sacks last season, and should have another consistent pass rush in 2014.
The Bulldogs have some solid players back on defense including sophomore Leonard Floyd, who had a great freshman season recording 9.5 tackles for a loss to go along with 6.5 sacks. He should be even better in 2014. LB Jordan Jenkins returns after having four sacks last season, and you can expect ILB Ramik Wilson to pick up where he left off with four sacks in 2013. The Bulldogs have a very sound group of LB's on their roster.
In the defensive backfield, look for Josh Harvey-Clemons to be among the elite DB's in the SEC. As a sophomore in 2013, Harvey-Clemons had 50 tackles. The Bulldogs secondary should be able to improve on their interception total from a season ago which ranked last in the SEC with just two picks.
The first seven games of the season are brutal, with a season-opening game against rival and ACC power Clemson followed by an open date, and then an SEC tilt versus South Carolina. Troy, Tennesse, Vandy, Missouri and Arkansas follow with no slouches in that stretch. I expect UGA to be among the contenders in the SEC East this season, and a return trip to Atlanta is not out of the question.
As the Who Dat Nation no doubt knows, Saints training camp starts this week! As the Black and Gold head out to West Virginia, let’s take a quick look at how the other teams in the NFC South are shaping up.
Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons will hold camp at Flowery Branch, GA with the youngsters reporting on July 22 and the vets on the 24th. The Dirty Birds were 4-12 last season - I don’t expect that to be the case this year. Atlanta has been the #1 seed in the NFC two times in three seasons ('10 & '12) and they know how to win close games. Losing Sean Weatherspoon hurts bad, TE Tony Gonzales is gone and there are some questions about the O-line, but with Ryan at QB and WR’s White and Jones back, I think ATL will be back to contend in the South this season.
Carolina Panthers: The defending division champs will hold training camp at Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC beginning July 24th. The Panthers face an uphill climb from last season’s 12-4 record. With QB Cam Newton coming off surgery and not having time to work with an entire new core of WR’s, one has to wonder how long it will take to get a decent chemistry established. Carolina has a lot of new faces, and lost a key franchise player in WR Steve Smith. Their young O-Line will be tested as well. Ron Rivera parlayed a hot seat position going into 2013 into an extension going into 2014, and should be happy, because if there is one team in the NFC that is a candidate from going from first to worst it’s these Cats!
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tampa will hold camp at home inside One Buccaneer Place. Rookies report on July 21 and vets July 24. Sean Payton went 10-6 and earned the #2 seed in 2006, and Mike Smith had Atlanta at 11-5 and in the playoffs in 2008. Both coaches did that in their first season as head coach in the NFL, and I think Lovie Smith can do it in 2014. Smith is a respected coach that has a genuine relationship with his players, and has more overall talent taking over the Bucs than he did for the Bears. Smith has good RB’s, game breaking WR’s, a Pro-Bowl caliber player in each phase of his defense, and they are better at QB. I think Tampa Bay can win 10 games and become the best longshot to make the playoffs in 2014. I’m laying a few ducks on the Bucs!
New Orleans Saints: New Orleans reports to the Greenbrier for training camp this Thursday and practice starts Friday. The Saints started the season 5-0 and then limped down the stretch, going 6-5 in their last 11 games. New Orleans could have stayed at home for their first post-season came in 2013, but squandered that opportunity on multiple occasions. But something great came from that missed chance as the Saints won a game on the road in the post season against Philly. When looking at the New Orleans roster, I don’t see any glaring weaknesses. The Saints have a lot of hype about them going into the season, and I'm banking that they'll live up to it! Are you?
As SEC Media Days continue this week, let's take a look at two more teams. How will the Wildcats and the Bulldogs fare in 2014?
Kentucky Wildcats: After a dismal 2-10 record in the first year under Coach Mark Stoops, there is nowhere to go but up for the Cats from Lexington. Other than hanging tough against Alabama for the first half of the game, the Wildcats truly had nothing to brag about. Kentucky was a bad football team in 2013.
The Cats ranked at the bottom, or close to it, in all major stats last season. If you’re looking for a reason to be optimistic about an offense that was an SEC worst at 14.8 points per game scoring average, it should be that the Wildcats welcome back 4 of 5 O-linemen.
UK also welcomes back leading rusher Jojo Kemp. Kemp showed signs of being a workhorse by rushing for nearly 500 yards last season. And this season RB Braylon Heard gets his shot after transferring from Nebraska. The Cats leading WR’s, Javes Blue and Ryan Timmons, should help boost the UK offense as well.
Things were not much better defense last year... the Wildcats allowed 36.4 points per game on average, as well as giving up 466 yards per game. I guess the good news is that 8 of 11 starters are back. The strength of the defense looks to be upfront with the return of D-linemen Za’Darius Williamson and Alvin Dupree. The Wildcats went to the JUCO ranks to bring in some instant help to their defensive backfield, which was one of the worst in the country last season.
Kentucky only won two games in 2013, and other than close games against South Carolina and Mississippi State, they didn't come close in any other contest. UK could be an improved team in 2014, but I wouldn't recommend looking for anything above four wins.
Mississippi State Bulldogs: Entering their final game of the regular season with a disappointing 5-6 record, the Bulldogs rallied on Turkey Night to beat rival Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl, and followed that up with a blowout win over Rice. The thought of seven wins will not satisfy Bulldogs fans - they want more!
Coach Dan Mullen could very well have his best team to date going into this season. The offense has experience in all areas and the defense welcomes back eight starters from last season’s unit. Is this the season the Bulldogs are taken seriously?
Right now, they look to be a much better team. On offense, QB Dak Prescott returns after having a nice showing in 2013. The SEC’s 7th leading rusher averaged nearly 90 yards per game last year - the problem was that Prescott led MSU in rushing. The Bulldogs need someone to step up and get more production from the RB spot; Josh Robinson is in the mix, and averaged six yards per carry last year. And RB Ashton Shumpert is expected to be better this season too.
WR Jameon Lewis is back after hauling in 42 grabs for 483 yards last season. The Bulldogs will look to score more this season after averaging 22.4 points per game in 2013 and MSU finished 9th in total offense in the conference.
The MSU defense was not bad at all in 2013! And with eight starters back this year, the Bulldogs should be even better. The Bulldogs allowed 29.6 points per game and they were 8th in total defense in the SEC. But the brightest numbers for the MSU D came in the form of interceptions (12), 3rd down Defense (34.7 % conversions allowed) and turnovers (+5.) That turnover margin was 3rd in the SEC!
Benardrick McKinney led MSU in tackles last season during his sophomore year and folks are excited about how much better he can be in 2014. The Bulldogs defensive backfield has some fire power in the form of Will Redmond, Taveze Calhoun and Jamerson Love.
Looking at the schedule, I think MSU should be 3-0 when they head to Baton Rouge to take on LSU on September 20th. The Tigers have flat-out owned Mississippi State, and a win in Baton Rouge could very well be the shot in the arm MSU needs to call a signature win. If it happens they could have another very good season. But until they beat LSU, not many will give them a chance to do so.
People sometimes ask me how come I know so much about college football. My response is that I read, look, listen and watch. Not to follow the nation’s toughest conference is flat out dumb. But hey, to each his own! Today was day two of SEC Media Days, so let's take a look at two more teams.
South Carolina Gamecocks: When he first took over at South Carolina, Coach Steve Spurrier was more of a sound bite than anything else, but in the past three seasons, his Gamecocks have become one of the best programs in the nation.
South Carolina is coming off their impressive third 11-win season, and no other team in the SEC East has a better record over that span. Entering the 2014 season, the Gamecocks look to be as solid as any club in the Eastern Division.
On offense, the team does have to replace a solid QB in Conner Shaw, but the return of RB Miles Davis makes things a little easier. Davis rushed for over 1,000 yards and 11 TD’s in 2013, averaging a whopping 6 six yards per rush, and he could be even better in 2014.
Dylan Thompson will take over at QB with some quality experience; he threw for over 700 yards and four TD’s last season. Expect him to hook up with WR’s Pharoh Cooper and Shaq Roland when he looks to pass the ball.
Even though SC does not have as much talent on offense as some other teams in the league, Spurrier is still sharp as a tack when it comes to game planning and play calling.
The difference for the Gamecocks the last few years has been an improved defensive unit. âThe last two seasons their strength was along their defensive front, but now the power looks to be in the middle of the defense at linebacker.
Returning to lead the way are Kaiwan Lewis and Skai Moore. The rest of the defense features a lot of new faces and younger players that have talent but need some playing time. The Gamecocks were 3rd in the SEC in total defense and they allowed only 22 points per game, which put them at 4th in the SEC.
The Gamecocks became one of the best 3rd down defensive teams by allowing opposing offenses to convert only 34.7 percent of the time.
Man, as far as their schedule, it doesn't start tougher for anyone than SC. They'll open with A&M, followed by a date with East Carolina, UGA, Vandy and then defending East champs Missouri. If the Gamecocks can come out of that stretch 4-2 they will be OK. Good thing for them that the first three games are at home.
Another 11 win season is more than likely the goal, but to reach 11 wins this season may perhaps be the best job the ole ball coach has done at South Carolina.
Tennessee Volunteers: People started singing Rocky Top again last season, and it was due to the respectable season that Butch Jones mustered up in his first season as coach of UT. The sleeping giant in Knoxville woke up last year - and now he might even walk upright! I don’t have to tell you how much tradition and support the Tennessee program has. And when the Vols are winning, their program is as good as any.
Now winning and winning big is something that has not happened since Phillip Fulmer was in charge, but the dog days of Lane and Derrick are over. Butch Jones is the man and I think he’s going to make the Vols faithful proud once again.
The Vols were much better than their 5-7 record indicated a season ago; they could have easily been 7-5. More importantly, you could see that the hard play in the Vols was consistent, and even in some blowout losses, the team did not quit.
On offense, it’s amazing that the Vols were able to win five games with an scoring average of 18 points per game. This unit can’t be any worse in 2014. QB Justin Woorley is back, and he or Joshua Dobbs could be the top signal caller. The Vols have the luxury of having some pretty good WR’s with players like Marquez North and Von Pearson back. North showed signs of being a solid player for UT during his freshman season a year ago.
On defense, Tennessee welcomes back the SEC’s second leading tackler in LB A.J Johnson, who had 81 stops a season ago, averaging a shade over 10 tackles per game. DB Brian Randolph is back after picking up 34 solo stops last season and four interceptions to his credit. Incoming freshman Emmanuel Mosley could start, as he was one of the nation's most sought-after recruits a year ago. The Vols could get many new faces on the field quicker than not with the country’s 5th-best recruiting class coming on campus.
ennessee has two winnable games against Utah State and Arkansas State the first two weeks of the season, but then brutal road trips to Oklahoma to face the Sooners, followed by a trip to Georgia to play the Bulldogs.
Picking five wins for the Vols is a hard feat with so much unknown right now, but with the job that Butch Jones has done in a short amount of time, patience may be the key. With more experience from some of the nation’s best freshman forthcoming and more stockpiled recruiting classes in the fold I can see these Vols becoming a power in the East once again. But it will take some time.
Today, the nation's toughest conference began their annual week of media days, where coaches from every SEC school address the media. Today, I'll take a look at what officials from Florida, Auburn and Vanderbilt had to say.
Florida Gators: This is it for Head Coach Will Muschamp. After an embarrassing 4-8 season in 2013, Muschamp must show significant improvement or he will be out of a job come November. After a 3-1 start, the Gators lost their last seven games of the year including a 26-20 loss to Georgia Southern, in which Georgia Southern did not attempt a pass. Ouch!
Anyone that has followed the Gators will tell you that Muschamp's defensive units have not been bad in his tenure, but his offense stinks! Florida failed to reach a bowl for the first time since 1990. If they don't want to miss out on the post-season this year, then new OC Kurt Roper will have to turn around an offense that ranked as one of the worst in all of college football last season.
The Gators are going to have several new faces along their O-line, but have good depth at the RB position. RB's Kelvin Taylor, Matt Jones and Mack Brown give Florida talent, speed and options. Unless Roper can piece together a consistent passing attack, the Florida offense will see defenses stack the line and challenge them to throw the football.
Like I said, defense is an area the the Gators have excelled in under Will Muschamp. It's hard to believe that a team that had an 4-8 record owned the second best defense in the nation's toughest league a year ago. Perhaps the strength of the UF defense is in their backfield. CB's Dante Fowler and Vernon Harreaves are two of the best in the nation, and both could be potential top flight Draft picks soon. Seven of their best tacklers are returning, and there are otherwise no glaring weaknesses on this defensive unit.
After the first three games of the season, I can only tell you that four wins are likely for Florida. Week four of the season begins a dangerous stretch with games against Alabama, Tennessee, LSU, Missouri, Georgia, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and FSU. Other than a gimmie against Eastern Kentucky, I can't guarantee anything.
Is this a Gators program that finished the regular season 11-1 and was a hair away from playing in the national title game? Or is this a Gators team that is a 4-8 club like their record indicated a season ago? I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle. If things get rocky early on, the chance for a change will be far greater than not.
Auburn Tigers: Going to the National Championship in your first year as head coach ain't too damn bad! The Tigers completed one of the most impressive one-year turnarounds in the history of sports as they advanced to the BCS Title Game a season ago.
Head Coach Gus Mulzhan is getting praised all over, and his Tigers are now one of the elite teams in college football. With QB Nick Marshall and WR Sammie Coats, the Tigers could once again find themselves in the SEC Title hunt.
Auburn will be able to once again move the ball, and they excel at getting opponents into track meet-style games.
Ellis Johnson's defense did not have bragging-type numbers a season ago, but the Tigers looked solid in red zone defense, and came up with big defensive plays and turnovers throughout the season. Auburn should have a more consistent defense in 2014.
The back half of the schedule is brutal, with games against South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. That makes the task of getting back to Atlanta much tougher this season, especially meeting Georgia and Alabama being on the road.
An early October showdown with the lone team to beat the Tigers in the regular season in 2013 could be huge; that came at the hands of the LSU Tigers. But this season, that match-up will be in Auburn and not in Baton Rouge.
Vanderbilt Commodores: How will the Commodores be now that James Franklin is no longer there? Franklin made the Commodores a legit threat in the SEC East, and over the course of the last four seasons, Vanderbilt had one of the best divisional records of any school in the Eastern Division.
Vanderbilt had swagger and they won some big games, but now, new Coach Derrick Mason has the job of maintaing the success that Franklin built in Music City, USA. The Commodores schedule sets them up to get off to another good start.
In my opinion, five of the first seven games are winnable contests. The first four games of the season are at home, with wins more than likely coming against Temple in the season opener and when Vandy hosts UMass in week three.
The Commodores home games against Ole Miss in week two and South Carolina in week four are crucial. If Vanderbilt can spilt those games they will be in good shape to return to a bowl again in 2014.
Vanderbilt seemingly always has a sound defense, but replacing three of the units top four tacklers from a year ago will be a daunting task. Offensively, they'll have a new QB under center this season, but do return the majority of their O-Line in 2014.
History tells us that the battles against the Rebels and Gamecocks will be hard fought, and I would not be surprised if Vanderbilt wins both of those games. If Vanderbilt can get by Ole Miss and South Carolina they would be 5-0 before they hit the road to take on Kentucky and Georgia.
I could see the Commodores winning eight games this season. But with an improved UK team and a much better team in rival Tennessee, not reaching the eight-win total would not be shocking. With so many key players to replace from last season's 9-4 team, a six-win season is a more realistic goal for Vanderbilt.
Everyone has their own predictions when it comes to college football, and I’ve jotted down who I think are the top five teams entering the 2014. It’s hard to place an SEC Team atop of the poll simply due to the toughness of the conference, and how hard it is to get through the entire season without a loss and then play in a title game that features another title-contending team. So here is my pre-season CFB Top 5!
1. Florida State Seminoles – The 'Noles are loaded. Heisman QB Jamies Winston is back along with a ton of speed and talented offensive weapons. But the FSU defense is what makes them tops in the nation. DE Mario Edwards is a big time pro prospect. The 'Noles schedule is not as tough as other top contenders, and that should be the difference in them making it back to the title game this season. Watch out for those rival Hurricanes late in the season.
2. Oklahoma Sooners – How much better can Sooners QB Trevor Knight look? After throwing for over 300 yards and four TD’s in the Sooners' Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, folks out in Oklahoma think these Sooners can make it to the four-team playoff. I’m here to tell you this team has a chance to be very good. WR Sterling Sheppard is a legit threat, and defensively, OU should be much better with the return of All Big XII DL Charles Tapper and the 2013 conference freshman of the year in DB Dominique Alexander. Many national experts claim the OU LB’s are arguably the best in the nation with Erick Striker leading the pack. The schedule is favorable and the Sooners should land in the four team playoff this January.
3. Alabama Crimson Tide – RTR! After looking near flawless in their first 11 games, the wheels came off of the bus against Auburn and Oklahoma. Still, the Tide are a machine, and the machine will roll again in 2014. Alabama does have tough road games against Ole Miss and LSU, but outside of those dates, they should be OK. RB’s TJ Yeldon and Kenyan Drake are the truth and is WR Amari Cooper. But who’s going to get them the ball? Whenever you have to replace a veteran leader like AJ McCarron, it’s a hard thing to do. Blake Sims is a talented player but has no experience. And incoming QB Jacob Coker has not taken a snap on campus. Regardless, the Tide’s Defense will be stout enough to allow the offense to gel. DL A’Shawn Robinson looked salty in the Crimson Tide’s A-Day Spring Game. And JC transfers Jarran Allen and D.J. Pettway are big time SEC players. I fully expect the Tide to be a title contender again this season. What else is new?
4. Auburn Tigers – From 3-9 to 12-2 you would have to say that 2013 was an incredible turn around for the Tigers that almost won it all. Now with a boat load of talent back, Auburn should make another run in the SEC and be among the nation’s elite teams this season. Auburn will have an unstoppable offense and their defense should be improved this year as well. QB Nick Marshall had a huge season in which he became arguably the best dual threat QB in CFB. WR Sammie Coats became a go to guy for Marshall, and D’haquille Williams will be an instant playmaker for the Tigers offense this season. The Auburn defense was bad last season from a stats standpoint. But their red zone play and ability to create turnovers was pretty good. Coordinator Ellis Johnson will have his defense much improved this season. Keep an eye on Montravius Adams, as he is the leader on the Tigers defensive front. The schedule is still tough with road dates at Georgia and Alabama and home dates against LSU and South Carolina. But with an electric offense, the Tigers should be in every game they play this season.
5. Ohio State Buckeyes – QB Braxton Miller is back and another undefeated regular season seems high possible for the Urban Meyer-led Buckeyes from Columbus. But replacing RB Carlos Hyde is no easy task for Meyer. Curtis Samuel and Johnnie Dixon are home run hitters with game breaking ability. The Buckeyes Offense does not have to be as good as a year ago when they averaged a massive 511 yards per game. Defensively the Buckeyes need to get better. OSU gave up 24 points per game in 2013 and the Buckeyes got gashed in their last two games against Michigan State and Clemson. Other than a road trip to Happy Valley to face the PSU Ninty Lions and a early November trip to East Lansing to face Michigan State, the Buckeyes should be in shape to be in line for a playoff berth this post season.
Websites crashed, Twitter blew up (and is still blowing up) and the once 150-1 odds for the Cleveland Cavaliers to win the 2015 NBA championship shrank down to 3-1. Yes, very few people in the world can ever and will ever matter as much as LeBron James.
Four years ago he was bashed, beat down and called everything in the book and then some, but somehow none of that matters anymore. After days and weeks of speculation the greatest basketball player on the planet told the world he’s “coming home.”
In the history of sports very few athletes have been able to swing the pendulum like Mr. James has and does. And now with his return to his home state of Ohio, LeBron James shows the world sometimes in life we do things that are not pleasing to others…that may rile the masse…but we learn, mature then make them right.
Some will chime in and call James the same thing they did four years ago…a traitor. The only difference--now Miami is the city being dissed as Cleveland once was. Some will reserve judgment and see how James fairs in C-Town during his second stint. Then there are those, who like me, who believe you can make mistakes, acknowledge those mistakes, then finally correct them.
James is the best player in the world, a much more mature man and most importantly a great father. Yes, I’m thick skinned and I know I’ll get called a “kisser,” but I’m down with the King and have no problem saying it.
Folks, it’s okay to make mistakes, mess up and do things that are not cool to others. But how you respond, react then adjust is what counts most. LeBron James did nothing illegal when he left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat. What he did was unpopular and made people down right hate him. But again, how many times in life have you made a “decision” that was not popular…then raised over three million dollars for those less fortunate?
Right now James really does wield the power of a king… numbers don’t lie. Check this out. When LeBron James informed Sports Illustrated he was returning to Cleveland, the Cavaliers instantly became the (3-1) favorite to the 2015 NBA Title. Folks, this is a Cavilers team that missed the playoffs in each of the last four seasons. And now with one man’s decision, they are the favorite to win it all. Who else carries that kind of weight?
When James last played for the Cavs, ticket prices averaged $195 dollars. When James left, prices plummeted to $51 dollars. Reckon he has value? And I don’t even have to mention how much the Cavs franchise stands to gain this week alone on jersey sales.
The city that has been dogged and hailed as a bad luck sports town, now has two of the most polarizing sports figures in the world. The Browns have Johnny Football and the Cavs now see the return of the King. Man, it must be buzzing in C-Town right now, huh?
How exciting to be witness to another chapter in the ever so drama filled Lebron James book of life. I’ll leave you all with this…Miami did nothing wrong here. Miami was not home. Northeast Ohio is home for LeBron James. And now the King is going to the place where there is no other place like, home!
They say numbers don’t lie. That statement could not be more true, than when it comes to the New Orleans Saints success under Coach Sean Payton. And when you dig a little deeper inside the numbers, the obvious becomes crystal clear.
As he enters his ninth season as head coach of the Black & Gold, Sean Payton looks to have one of his better teams. In eight seasons, Payton led the Saints to the NFL playoffs five times, including winning the Lombardi trophy in 2009.
When you look at Coach Payton’s success, patterns become apparent. For example, the first four games of the season have been the indicator about how good…or not…the Saints will be.
In 2007, 2008, and 2012 the Saints did not make the playoffs. Sure, there are many reasons why the Black & Gold stayed home after the regular season, but it was largely due to a poor start in each of those three seasons.
In 2007 the Saints started the season a dismal 0-4, 2-2 in 2008, and 0-4 in 2012. When the Saints have gone to the post season, those first four games have been wins - far more so than not.
In Payton’s first season, the Saints came out of the gate a surprising 3-1. In 2009 the Saints were 4-0. They were 3-1 in 2010 and 2011, and the Black & Gold went 4-0 through their first four games in 2013.
So under Payton, the Saints have started the season either 3-1 or 4-0 in years in which New Orleans made the playoffs. On the flip side, in seasons where the Saints have not made the playoffs they kicked off the season either 0-4 or 2-2.
Is a fast start pivotal to the team’s success?
Coach Payton thinks so, “I think every one of us sees the statistics of teams that start two, three, four-and-0 versus the other way around, and the percentages obviously tilt, marrying each other. I think it goes a long way.” The Saints head coach continued, “I will say this: in 2006, it was critical because we were a decent team, but all of the sudden playing with some confidence after a couple of road wins and winning at home. Obviously in 2009 we carried that momentum for a large part of the season.”
Coach Payton expanded on the importance of a hot start, “Each year is different. In 2011 we lost week one in a tough loss, and I think you try to come away from it and say, ‘Hey, we just played a good football team.’ I think it was the Super Bowl Champion (Packers) the year before. You lay out the schedule – we’re not even at the point where we discuss the schedule yet, we will be in training camp – and you focus on your first challenge. Going on the road versus Atlanta is a big challenge. You really try to focus in on the next game. A fast start, though, is something that you’re looking for. Each week, you’re trying – especially in the beginning of the season – to improve and you’re in a race to improve against the other teams.”
Back in 2006 the Saints' hot 3-1 start led them to a 10-6 record, the NFC South Title and the #2 seed in the NFC playoffs. In 2009 the Saints started 4-0, won the NFC South and captured the #1 seed en-route to winning the club’s first Super Bowl title.
In 2010 and 2011 the Saints were 3-1 after four games with the Black & Gold landing the #5 seed in 2010, and the #3 seed in 2011. And last season’s 4-0 start helped the Saints earn another post season berth as the team was seeded 6th in the NFC.
So, if history taught us anything, it points out that the Saints need a good start. And if the Saints don’t have a good season in 2014, we may very well look back and point to how the team’s record was after the first four games. And if that record is 0-4 or 2-2, then it more than likely won’t be good. At least that’s what history says!
Now that the ruling is in, a long term deal to keep TE Jimmy Graham in a Saints uniform should get done, and soon. I have no reason to believe otherwise. Graham will probably become the highest paid tight end in the NFL.
For those who were upset that Graham tested the waters to see if he could be classified as a WR, my words to you would be 'don’t take it personally.' It was all a matter of business. Now with that hurdle cleared and out of the way, it’s time to focus on what can be controlled.
What can be controlled is making sure that the leader in touchdown receptions in 2013 remains in Black and Gold. Graham is a pass catcher. WR’s, TE’s and RB’s are all players that catch the football.
Graham hauled in a league best 16 TD’s in 2013 and he has quickly become one of the most difficult to defend pass catchers in the game today. So now the Saints have until July 15 to iron out a long term deal for Graham. I’m betting that the deal will get done, sooner than later!