The New Orleans Saints will open training camp at the end of July in West Virginia, but there was plently to see at the three day mini-camp. With the help of our resident pros Hokie Gajan and Bobby Hebert, we jotted down the top five takeaways from this week.
1) The wide receivers battle will be competitive. I think it's safe to say that the Saints are OK when it comes to having a veteran presence as leaders of their WR's. Guys like Marques Colston and Robert Meachum have been in the league for a long time, and both are coming off good mini-camp outings.
Kenny Stills and top draft pick Brandin Cooks are good to go as far as making the team. But what about the rest of the players at this position? Should make a nice storyline as we approach training camp.
#88 Nick Toon, who many feel needs a good camp to stay on the team, has been impressive in OTA's and mini-camp. Here is what Coach Payton had to say about Toon when asked if he's looking for better production from the WR this season:
“Yes, I would say so. Part of that was what was ahead of him a year ago. It was hard to get him on the field. We felt like he had a real good training camp. I would expect him to play a bigger role for our offense this season. I thought he played real well in his opportunities last year in training camp, and he’s doing well here in this offseason. His progress is important to us. With the loss of a number of players, particularly Lance Moore, I think you’ll see more snaps for him and more opportunities.”
#14 Andy Tanner will certainly not go quietly, as he will catch just about everything thrown his way. #13 Joe Morgan has the one thing that you just can't coach, and that is blazing speed. But can Morgan get healthy enough to make another good showing?
#15 Seantavius Jones, #16 Brandon Coleman, #18 Charles Hawkins and #19 Steve Hull round out the entire group of Saints WR's currently on the roster. Jones has made some plays at times and has drawn the attention of the media at practices. Coleman's biggest thing going for him is his 6'6" body size. The 225-lb beast from Rutgers looks the part, but I think he has dropped the ball too much. I've not really noticed anything real good or bad from #19 Steve Hull.
The one player that could continue to make a push is Charles Hawkins. "He's a fast player and he's doing some good things out there right now," said Saints Color Analyst Hokie Gajan. Gajan said that Hawkins has to not only do well on the field, but he and the other younger players must be able to be as sharp as possible in the meeting rooms and play a part on special teams in order to have a shot to make the roster.
Coach Sean Payton was also asked about the Hawkins' plays at mini-camp. “He’s a guy that came here as a free agent and from a small school. He ran well. You saw it when we worked him out and you see it periodically in these drills. It’s all the other little things you see in playing the position, formations, splits, alignments, route depths, some of those things are the key for him. He has the ability to get up the field. He can separate quickly. But it’s also all the other things in playing the position.”
Regardless of which players make up the 2014 WR squad for the Saints, I feel like they have the potential to be a very dangerous group. The right mixture of size, speed, youth and veteran leadership is all evident in this group of players - and I've not even mentioned the names Graham and Watson yet either!
2) Better O-Line? The Saints have four of five starters back on their O-Line this season, and the lone new face will be at center. Veteran Jonathan Goodwin is in a battle with Tim Lelito for the starting job. Coach Payton and his staff have built a solid franchise in picking the best players to make the roster. If Tim Lelito wins out, he would have had the best camp and gives the Saints the best player at the center position. But holding off a veteran player that has been to four straight NFC Title Games and two Super Bowls is going to be very difficult to do.
With Strief and Armstead anchoring down the tackle spots, and Evans and Grubbs at the guards, the Saints look to once again have a complete O-Line. The Saints will look to rush the ball at a more consistent level this season, and it all starts with the big guys in the trenches.
As the Saints get ready for West Virginia, it looks like there is a serious battle to see who will be the backup to Drew Brees. Veteran QB Luke McCown and former Tulane standout Ryan Griffin are the two vying for that job.
“He’s doing it right now, both he and Luke (McCown) are competing. Ryan showed enough progress last year. I know that would certainly be a goal of his this year." That is what Coach Sean Payton said when asked if Griffin was in competing for the backup QB job. Griffin and McCown have both made plays during OTA's and mini-camp. And the battle to see who is next in line behind Drew Brees could very well last until the final preseason game is played.
4) Take-it-away defense! From the end of last season until the beginning of the 2014 season, the Saints have said that creating more turnovers is a must, and something that the club is working on each day.
There was not one practice that happened in which the defense did not at the very least jar the ball out, pick off a pass or scoop up a fumble. Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan has said that the Saints are doing everything, from watching film on players that are better at taking the ball away, to doing drills in order to get better themselves.
I feel very confident that the Saints Defense will improve in the takeaway area this season.
5) We're ahead of schedule. Both Bobby and Hokie think that the Saints are on schedule as far as implementing their play book and getting the work in prior to training camp.
In fact, both former Black and Gold greats have said that they think the Saints may be ahead of schedule. "When you look at the way the defense was blitzing and the piping in of crowd noise, those are things that we have not seen done this early in prior years under Coach Payton," said Bobby Hebert.
With a little over a month left before the start of camp takes place up in West Virginia, the Saints will look to get back WR Joe Morgan and new addition in Safety Jairus Byrd.
The Saints have a few more OTA's and then they will break for the remainder of June and part of July before players report to the Greenbrier on Thursday July 24.
Saints are looking extremely impressive. With the new additions to an already great defense, and offense for that matter, it seems like they are set up for a successful season. This should be as about as good a chance to go all the way as they ever have had. WHO DAT BABYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!