Every player, every coach approaches "cut down" day in the NFL a little differently. Saints coach Sean Payton and his coaching staff are charged with the task of formulating the teams' final roster they’ll carry into the regular season. NFL teams have to pare their rosters down to 53 players by tomorrow afternoon at 3pm. The Saints have some tough decisions to make at kicker, safety, and wide reciever. The Saints could have a few veterans and younger players released that will then likely be top targets for other teams in the league.
The kicking battle between Derek Dimke and Shayne Graham is a particularly tough one to call. Graham has the veteran experience and Dimke has the stronger leg. The Saints could roll the dice a little bit with Dimke, and if doesn’t work out, the team could always go back and make a play for Graham or another kicker that will be available. Graham is a vested veteran, and if he’s on the roster past week one of the regular season, his salary is fully guaranteed. I think Dimke ends up winning this competition.
The Saints apparently are collecting safeties, and five out of the six currently on the roster are virtual locks to make the final 53. Jairus Byrd, Kenny Vaccaro, and Rafael Bush figure to play prominent rolls on defense this season. Marcus Ball could also find his way into some defensive packages in games. Rookie Vinnie Sunseri’s likely contributions will come on special teams in the kicking game. Undrafted rookie free agent Pierre Warren is the wild card. He’s played well enough to merit a roster spot, but the Saints might feel comfortable in trying to slip him onto the practice squad. I think Warren also makes the roster, and could be a player the Saints move up and down the active squad based on injuries at various positions.
Have we seen the last of Robert Meachem? One week ago I thought it was a near certainty. Today, with the nagging injury to Kenny Stills (quad) I think it’s possible the team keeps 6 wide receivers. Meachem rejoined the Saints last season after Joe Morgan was lost for the year with an ACL injury. Stills, Marques Colston, Brandin Cooks, and Morgan are firmly in place. Nick Toon has made just enough strides and Meachem looks like he’s the odd man out. If the Saints release Meachem it will be a sure-fire sign they feel good about Kenny Stills’ recovery and availability for week 1 against Atlanta.
Roster Moves: Ahead of today’s 3pm deadline, the Saints officially announced roster moves to pare the roster to league-mandated 75 players. Four players cut were on the Saints 53 man roster a year ago; CB Rod Sweeting, DL Rufus Johnson Jr, LB Kevin Reddick and LB Victor Butler were among those released. QB Logan Kilgore, DL George Uko TE Travis Beckum T/G Manese Foketi were among the remaining four players cut from the team. Butler was the most significant name on the list, after an ACL injury sidelined him all of 2013; Butler suffered an ankle injury in training camp and just didn’t have enough snaps to evaluate. The Saints signed Butler last off-season to a 2-year deal and will get save $1.5 million in cap space.
Brees welcomes daughter: Drew Brees and his wife Brittany had their fourth child last night around 7pm. Brees said he and his wife haven’t decided on a name just yet. When asked if he’s fine with four kids, he joked, “She looked at me last night in labor kind of like, ‘this is the last one buddy’”. All four of the Brees Children were born in New Orleans.
Three observations: The release of Bulter and Johnson says a lot about a couple of players on the roster. Undrafted rookie free agent LB Kasim Edabli has really made an impression in the last couple of weeks. I’d say he has a better than average chance of making the final roster on Saturday. Coach Sean Payton has singled him out a few times in press conferences. Providing that he doesn’t play awful on Thursday night against Baltimore, Edibale should stick around on the final 53 man roster. Ronald Powell (5th round pick) out of Florida has really started to shine as well. Keep an eye on those two players this week.
Patrick Robinson: Got his hands on a few footballs today, and is clearly the starter right now opposite of Keenan Lewis at left cornerback. P-Rob had a nice pass break up and and strip fumble recovery in team drills today. “He hasn’t just looked good, he’s looked outstanding” said the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert when I asked about Robinson. “We need that. He can be a really good player, he’s just been set back by injuries and inexperience in his career.”
Joe Morgan says he is fine after getting up gimpy in practice on a diving catch. #Saints
Brandon Deaderick: He's another reason the Saints released Rufus Johnson. Deaderick has been getting more and more time with the first team defense in the last two weeks. Deaderick can play both nose tackle and defensive end. Deaderick is a free agent from Jacksonville signed this spring. “He’s stout in the run game, and has some pass rush skills. He’s a veteran and you know what your going to get out of him. I think he has a real chance to make the final roster,” said Hebert.
The Saints wrap up the preseason Thursday night against the Baltimore Ravens in the Superdome. Kickoff on Saints Radio is at 7pm.
Baby Girl: Saints quarterback Drew Brees was absent from practice today for “family reasons.” Brees and his wife are expecting their fourth child this week, so quarterback Luke McCown filled in for Brees with the first team offense. He was particularly sharp connecting on a few big plays with TE Jimmy Graham, and WR Brandon Coleman. The fourth baby in the Brees family will be a little girl!
McCown vs Griffin: It’s becoming very clear the Saints plan on keeping three quarterbacks on the roster. Veteran Luke McCown started training camp slowly, but has really played well in the games and turned it on in last two weeks, and has done nothing to lose his job as the primary back-up to Drew Brees. McCown is veteran insurance for the Saints with Brees at age 35. Griffin might be the future back up but for this year it’s a virtual lock that McCown remains on the roster.
It's very clear Luke McCown is staying on the roster. The #Saints have to keep 3 QB's McCown having a solid camp today he's been sharp
Stills back on sideline: Saints WR Kenny Stills did not practice today after re-aggravating his quad injury in Saturday night’s preseason game against the Colts. Stills admitted to having a few setbacks in training camp trying to come back from the injury. The latest setback to Stills will likely change the number of receivers on the final roster. The Saints will likely keep 6 WRs, with Robert Meachem taking the final roster spot. Until the Stills injury, I had Meachem getting cut with on the last roster beak down on August 30th. Meachem is a vested veteran so if he’s on the roster for week 1, he’ll be guaranteed his base salary for the remainder of the year regardless of his roster status.
Butler Back, sort of: Saints linebacker Victor Butler returned to practice today on a limited bases. Butler did not take part in any team drills. Another tough decision awaits the Saints coaching staff with Butler. Butler missed all of last season with an ACL injury and hasn’t been available going down early in training camp with an undisclosed injury.
Roster Moves: The Saints made three roster moves ahead of tomorrow’s 3pm deadline to pare the roster to 75 players. WR Andy Tanner, S Ty Zimmerman and OL Ty Nsekhe were all waived/injured. Tanner has been on and off the Saints practice squad the last two seasons and was ineligible for the practice squad this year. The Saints have to trim the roster to 53 players by Saturday August 30th.
Penalties: The Saints have been flagged for 32 penalties this preseason and Sean Payton and the players have said they have to get rid of the problem before the regular season. I know the NFL has placed a bigger emphasis on throwing the flag this preseason, and I’m sure it will fall off around the league once the regular season begins, but still, 32 in two games? The Saints aren’t the Oakland Raiders. Rest assured, Payton made his point clear to his team this week, and the penalties should be fixed.
Byrd watching: Saints safety Jarius Byrd was cleared for full contact drills this week, after starting training camp on the PUP list. Payton said Byrd will play against the Colts, but will probably be on a pitch count. The starters are likely to see the most extensive playing time of the exhibition season, but Byrd might be handled a little differently, along with cornerback Champ Bailey. Byrd has looked tremendous in practice this week, making plays on the football and just seeming to make up for a lot of mistakes in the secondary with great angles and exceptional ball skills.
Back to Brees: It’s hard to believe Drew Brees hasn’t played yet. An oblique strain held the Saints quarterback out of the first two preseason games, but he’s back and ready to go for the Colts. The Saints took a very calculated and cautious rehab approach with Brees and he looks nearly 100% judging by his arm strength and accuracy during practice. The Saints offense operated pretty well in the first two games against St. Louis and Tennessee, but Brees brings another tempo and pace to the offense. See if you can notice the urgency of the offense when #9 is back under center.
Champing at the bit: Saints fans have been waiting anxiously to see cornerback Champ Bailey make his Saints debut, and that will happen this week against Indy. Much like Brees and Byrd, Bailey likely won’t play as long as the other frontline guys. When Bailey has been at Saints practice, he’s looked very quick and moved well. Payton said at the start of camp “We don’t have to see the (future Hall-of-Fame skill) every play, we just have to see it once and a while.” Bailey was hampered by a foot injury that held him out of 12 games last season with Denver, and clearly isn’t the Champ Bailey of 5 years ago but still a player that can help this team win.
Offensive Line intact: For the first time this preseason the Saints will have their entire offensive line back in the line up at one time. Guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs have missed some time with various injuries. Sieno Kalemete and Marcel Jones replaced Evans and Grubbs in the first two games and did well creating running lanes for the backs and protecting the passer yielding just 1 sack in 82 passing attempts. You can expect the O-Line play to remain strong with two Pro Bowlers Evans and Grubbs back in there.
Griffin vs McCown: The backup QB job is far from settled, but I’m very interested in seeing who relieves Drew Brees when his work is done against Indy. Will it be Griffin or McCown? I think Griffin has a slight edge in the competition, and the Saints are going to want to see him with some of the starters after Brees calls it a night. McCown has played well in the preseason, and is that veteran journeyman who knows the offense, but Griffin has more upside. Traditionally the Saints have carried only 2 quarterbacks on the roster, creating some spots for other players that can help in special teams or depth on defense.
Saints vs Colts: For the first time in training camp, the Saints are installing a game plan this week for the Indianapolis Colts. On offense and defense, each team faced the scout offense/defense trying to replicate what they’ll see in Lucas Oil Stadium.
Cooks: Wide receiver Brandin Cooks returned to the practice field today after missing three days with a stomach virus. Cooks was limited, taking part in the walk-through and some individual drills. His playing status for Saturday night is up in the air, according to Sean Payton: “We’ll see, right now we have to make sure we can keep him hydrated.” Although Cooks is a rookie, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Saints hold him out of this one.
Secondary rounding in form: For the first time in all of training camp the Saints secondary is nearly whole. Three safeties, Jairus Byrd, Kenny Vaccaro, and Rafael Bush anchor the back end of the defense with Keenan Lewis, Champ Bailey and Patrick Robinson holding down the top three cornerback positions. Corey White has started to solidify his roster spot in the last week: “White is playing with a lot more confidence than he was just a week ago. You can see how much more comfortable he is. He’s been close to, or has picked off a couple of footballs in the last four or five practices,” explained the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert. Rookie Stanley Jean-Baptiste is still in the developemental stage of his first year. He’ll make the roster, but has a long way to go before he’ll steal some snaps from White or Robinson.
Roster moves: The Saints' current roster stands at 86 players after making four roster moves ahead of Saturday night’s preseason clash with the Colts. The Saints waived WR Tobais Palmer, DE Childera Uzo-Diribe, RB Timothy Flanders, and TE Je-Ron Hamm. The Saints have to trim the roster to 75 players by Tuesday at 3pm, and then to 53 following the final exhibition game of the season next Thursday night against the Ravens.
**NOTE: Thursday's Saints practice has been moved inside and will be closed to the public.**
Mandeville Packed: The Saints held a night practice at Mandeville High School, and it was a standing room only crowd. The players seemed to enjoy the interaction with the fans on hand and even admitted to having some flash backs to their high school football days. Coach Payton and the players felt like it was one of their better practices since coming back from West Virginia.
Byrd soaring, Champ making progress: Saints S Jairus Byrd returned to full contact in practice yesterday, and today really made some plays. In 7 on 7 drills, Byrd snared a one-handed interception off Drew Brees “There might not be another safety in the league that can do that. He was diving to the ground and grabbed it with one hand,” said the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert. Coach Payton said after practice they plan to play Byrd this Saturday night against the Colts. Cornerback Champ Bailey took part in team drills for the first time in nearly three weeks - the reps were limited, but still, an encouraging sign. Keenan Lewis also took part in team drills on a limited number of snaps. Cornerback Patrick Robinson also participated in practice today, but only during individual drills.
Observations: Rookie OT Tavon Rooks might turn out to be another solid find in the late rounds for the Saints. Watching him practice, he just looks smooth and is clearly not in over his head. At times, Rooks every bit like he can be starter in a few years, certainly a backup this season or next. WR Brandin Cooks missed practice again today - that must have been on heck of a stomach virus. Cooks has missed three days from what Payton described as a stomach bug earlier in the week. Payton didn’t address the absence after practice.
Deeper practice squad: The NFL made it official, increasing the number of practice squad players from 8 to 10 starting this season. That’s 64 more jobs for players, that ordinarily wouldn’t have one. The most likely beneficiaries from this increase are defensive lineman and defensive backs. Teams are constantly looking for depth at both position groups. With that said, that gives the Saints the flexibility to carry 5 safeties on the active roster and 1 on the practice squad. Right now, Pierre Warren (Jacksonville State) seems likely to land on the practice squad.
Byrd of Prey: Saints safety Jarius Byrd has been cleared for contact and was a full participant in practice this afternoon at Saints headquarters. Byrd says he plans to play Saturday night against the Indianapolis Colts in the preseason. Byrd ran with the first team unit in team drills, and made his presence felt early with a solid collision in the middle of the field on a running play with Mark Ingram; Byrd clearly won the battle. After the play the two players exchanged high fives. “He just knows how to play the game, you can’t teach the instincts this guy has. Byrd’s going to have a tremendous impact, I’m really anxious to see him in live action,” said the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert. “Now it’s just looking ahead to what we have to accomplish, not only for this game, but for the rest of the season,” Byrd said after being cleared for full contact.
Cadet’s Camp: Saints running back Travaris Cadet is quietly having his best camp of three in a Black and Gold uniform. He’s a much more polished runner and has had a number of big runs in camp, and ripped off a nifty 20 plus yarder today in team drills. The Saints are going to keep four running backs on this roster, and Cadet is closest thing to Darren Sproles. He’s not going to be as dynamic, but will contribute in the passing game and some in the running game. I can tell you from watching him at field level, he’s probably faster than he looks and has ability to erase angles from would-be tacklers.
Tooned Down: Wide receiver Nick Toon was the talk of camp early in West Virginia, but has cooled off in the two weeks. Toon looked like a virtual lock to make the final roster, but now I’m not so sure he’s there. Toon has been leapfrogged by Joe Morgan at the fourth wide receiver spot, and is in a battle with Robert Meachem if the team keeps five at the position. Toon had a few miscommunications today with Drew Brees on a few plays.
Up and Down: I reported yesterday that undrafted rookie free agent wide receiver Brandon Coleman had his best day of camp by far. Sean Payton acknowledged the growth he’s seen from Coleman in the last week, and was looking forward to see if he could build on the momentum he’s building. But Coleman had one of his down days in practice today, still struggling at times to catch the football.
Cooks and Lewis Sidelined: Cornerback Keenan Lewis missed his second consecutive day of practice still rehabbing a foot injury. Lewis worked with the training staff during practice today and was moving around pretty well. I don’t expect him to play this weekend, and it looks like he’ll be fine in time for the regular season opener against the Falcons. WR Brandin Cooks also missed practice still experiencing some lingering effects from a stomach bug that held him out of practice yesterday. Payton said Cooks still had a fever today and he held him out, and Cooks should return tomorrow.
Lewis: After suffering an undisclosed foot injury in the preseason win over Tennessee, CB Keenan Lewis practiced yesterday on a limited basis and missed today’s work out. Coach Sean Payton only offered a short explanation: “He’s working through the rehab.” Veteran Champ Bailey is slowly but surely working his way back into things; Bailey participated in the walk-through portion of practice, and looks like he’s moving significantly better than just a week ago. Saints rookie wide reciever Brandin Cooks sat out of practice today with a stomach illness but is expected to be back on the field tomorrow.
Coleman: Undrafted rookie free agent wide receiver Brandon Coleman had his best practice of training camp today, making several tough catches. Coleman has been the most inconsistent of the receivers on the roster, but today he worked in a few reps with the first team unit. The question now becomes, can Coleman build on today’s performance and make a strong push in the final two preseason games?
Nothing new to report on Byrd still getting feedback Payton hopes to have him back tomorrow #Saints
2 minute drill: Drew Brees guided the first team offense through a solid drive in the 2 minute offense to wrap up practice. Brees and company didn’t score a touchdow,n but would have gotten into field goal range if they were trailing by three or less. In this scenario it was enough, the offense needed a touchdown to win, so chalk it up to the defense. Ryan Griffin quarterbacked the second team, and also failed to get the team in the end zone. Luke McCown and Logan Kilgore didn’t get a chance to run the two minute offense.
Play of the day: You could pick from a few different throws from Drew Brees, who looked much sharper in his second practice returning from an oblique strain. Brees connected with WR Robert Meachem on a nice deep ball down the sideline. The ball couldn’t have been thrown better. The defensive back (Corey White) had solid coverage, but it was just a perfect pass from Brees.
Stan not the man, yet: Rookie CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste started camp clearly looking like a rookie, and about ten days into camp started to look more comfortable. I don’t want to call it a regression but Jean-Baptiste has struggled in the last three or four practices. The Saints love his size, and the coaching staff is teaching on every play he is in there. He’ll make the final roster, but looks like he’s destined for more of a special teams role this season, barring a rash of injuries at cornerback. “I know if I’m the QB in a game against the Saints and the moment I see Jean-Baptiste, that’s the match up I am going after. He’s just not ready yet,” said the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert.
Brees-ing along: Saints Quarterback Drew Brees returned to practice today in a full capacity. Brees made every throw with zip today while taking part in team drills for the first time in over two weeks, recovering from an oblique strain that held him out of the first two preseason games of the exhibition season. The Saints franchise QB plans to play Saturday night in Indianapolis when the Black and Gold battle the Colts in the third preseason contest of the year. Brees also admitted following practice that he would NOT have been able to play if the injury he sustained was during the regular season.
Byrd getting close: Safety Jarius Byrd is close to returning on a full time basis, and will be at practice tomorrow. Byrd was absent today, and Payton said Byrd is in the process of being cleared for full contact. The Saints signed Byrd to a 6 year $54 million dollar contract in the offseason.
Veterans on the mend: Aside from Brees, a number of Saints veterans were back in the line up in Sunday afternoon’s practice. Linemen Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs returned, taking every rep in team drills. Wide Reciever Kenny Stills also made his way back on the field after sitting out following a quad injury that held him out of camp after the first practice. WR Marques Colston missed Friday night’s preseason game against the Titans, but like Stills, was back at work. Cornerback Keenan Lewis, who left the Titans game with what looked like a foot injury, worked his way back in practice but was a little more limited, skipping one portion of team drills. It looks like Lewis will be fine.
Climate change: The Saints were reintroduced to the Louisiana heat in their first practice back in Metairie and Payton said the team handled it pretty well “It’s a climate change. Today we had cloud cover, so our practice after a game usually is not as long. We’ll be smart. Something I said, the water breaks will be a little bit longer than they were for the first three weeks. It’s going to be important that we stay hydrated with our legs, getting in the cold tubs, all those things”. You could visible see a difference in the players energy level at the end of practice.
Graham dunk: A lot was made of tight end Jimmy Graham’s two dunks after catching two touchdown passes against the Titans. The two celebrations were flagged by the officials as a personal foul. Sean Payton and Graham exchanged words after the second penalty and Payton elaborated a little more today “He and I met. I’m his biggest fan. I’m sure as we get going here that type of thing won’t be a problem. Rules change constantly whether you like it or not, or whether or not we voted for him. He’s outstanding. He’ll be ready to go. What took place in the meeting will stay between he and I.” Graham said afterwards “Obviously, I would never do that in a regular season game and hurt the team”
Correcting penalties: The Saints were flagged for 22 penalties against Tennessee, prompting Payton to call it “painful to watch” following the game. Payton said correcting those penalties was an emphasis when the Saints returned to practice. “Listen, I know they’re up throughout the league in the preseason, but I know we’re at the top of a preseason schedule. Those are things we have to go through.”