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Kristian Garic

Talk sports and more with Kristian and T-Bob Hebert on "Double Coverage!" 

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Twitter: @kristiangaric
Email: kristian@wwl.com


Payton: Saints love Michael Thomas' skillset

The Saints selected Thomas with the 47th over all pick in round 2 of the NFL draft. "He's big, competitive, I love his hands in traffic and I think he has a very unique skillset. He has real strong hands and has some good runs after the catch. You watch him workout and you watch him compete."

Payton has openly raved about how he prefers the bigger physical wide outs, and Thomas fits that mold. "I love his size and his competitive nature and his makeup is outstanding." The Buckeyes run a bit of a different offense, to say the least, so evaluating Thomas was a little harder. "You have to really dig on tape. Really spend time on finding his touches and attempts. He was someone that when the process was over with we had at the receiver position real high on that list," Payton added.

I wasn't all that surprised by the decision to draft a wide receiver. However, I didn't see the Saints trading back into round two to draft another Ohio State player in safety Vonn Bell. The Saints gave up their 3rd & 4th round picks in this class to move up, and Payton said it wasn't a difficult decision. "When they (Patriots) had two picks there, it just made sense to call and see if they had both players and if they didn't then all of a sudden it was a possibility and an opportunity," Payton explained. Bell has a chance to be a special player in the NFL, and by giving up two picks to get him the Saints are indeed putting themselves out there with this move.

Bell factors into the Saints plans in a major way, according to Payton. "He is just a great player. He is someone that can run and (play) "over the slot quite a bit. Our vision would be the same in that we think he can be on the field covering down over a slot." Payton says the vision for Bell early on is to play him at Free Safety and in sub packages in the defensive backfield. Ultimately this will free up Kenny Vaccaro to play the game he's best suited for, and that is close to the line of scrimmage, and being physical.

Bell and Payton had extensive conversations on the phone throughout the pre-draft process, and Bell had a feeling the Saints had designs on drafting him. Payton said he passed the final test: "He was one I spoke to a handful of times. There were a couple of shuttles and a jump that was missing that we did not have times on. I just called him up and said that there are three things I need to see here that we receive from everyone. I told him what they were and I said that I need to see those before we're going to draft you," Right away Bell complied with his future coach. "We called him up a handful of times. Urban (Meyer) is a guy that I have a good relationship with and he and I have been friends for a long time. This is a guy that is competitive with really good instincts and really good ball skills. I'm glad we got him."​
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Deuce: Michael Thomas can contribute immediately

You had to figure at some point Sean Payton would add to his offense. In the second round, he did. The Saints grabbed the Ohio State WR with the 47th pick over all. I had a hunch the Saints were on the look out today for a wide out. In the off-season the team released Marques Colston and need another red zone threat. It definitely puts WR Brandon Coleman on notice.

"He can contribute immediately. I like the pick because you had to address this position because you let Marques Colston go," former Saints running back Deuce McAllister explained. NFL draft analyst Mike Detillier had Thomas as the 6th best wide out on his draft board. "He's going to really present some match up problems in the red-zone," he said.

FULL AUDIO: Deuce's take on the newest Saints receiver

Thomas is the nephew of former Jets No.1 pick Keyshawn Johnson. "Playing at Ohio State, when you get that chance and get the ball in the air you want to make the most of it. I knew that if I didn't make a play, someone on our offense would" he added. ​The selection of Thomas so far has been met with mixed reviews.

"I'm going to come in add value - they have a great group down there with Brees, and Cooks. I just want to come in and play my part," Thomas told Bobby Hebert and Deke Bellavia.

READ MORE: Bobby and Mike: Saints set to use Thomas to replace Colston

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Kristian: Saints make smart and safe pick with Sheldon Rankins

Going back to the Senior Bowl, this Louisville defensive tackle raised eyebrows and caught the attention of NFL scouts. "I knew I had to set my self apart. I wanted to dominate the individual drills. I wanted to dominate in the film room. I felt like I did that," Rankins explained.

His business-like and no nonsense approach really caught the attention of the media and scouts on hand. Again the Saints went with production, character and talent staying true to their values. Rankins will be used to the way the Rams use Aaron Donald.

"He's got a ton of pass rush skills, he was putting on a clinic at the Senior Bowl. It was like 'pick your poison' going up against offensive linemen," explained NFL draft analyst Mike Detillier. Rankins left the Senior Bowl in the middle of the week with a slight calf injury but did enough to vault himself into the first round.

T-Bob and I had him on Double Coverage earlier this week. I walked away from that interview impressed with his maturity, and focus. He's not just a one trick pony either, "Oh, he can stop the run. The Saints need to keep him active with stunts and games and he'll really succeed," one NFL scout told me.

FULL AUDIO: Sheldon Rankins's first interview as a Saint

"Rankins can also stuff the run and will remind you of Carolina Panthers defensive lineman Kawann Short," continued Detillier. Last season at Louisville he enjoyed a career-best season, recording 53 tackles and a lead the Cardinals with 8.0 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. ​

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Kristian: Sizing up the Saints' draft prospects

It's like putting together a crime scene and a rubik's cube at the same time. Incredibly frustrating and intresting at the same time. Questions abound about where the Saints stand on QBs, LBs and other players. Here is what I suggest; don't read to much into what you hear, but file it away for future reference. Here is what I think I know.

Trading for a QB: Not gonna happen! Right? I mean what in the heck would they need a QB for? The Saint drafted one last year (Garret Grayson) and they signed one free agent this off-season. Not to mention trading up for one? I don't see it happening. Remember the clandestine meeting the Saints had last year with Grayson that no-one knew about until they drafted him? Yeah! If it were so much a secret this year, why would it leak? The Saints control most of the messages coming out of Airline Drive. Could they use it as a bait? You bet they could and are! New Orleans wants teams to think they are in love with QB. The notion fits right? They have an aging QB with a contract that seems out of whack. The Saints aren't ready to move on from Brees just yet. Memphis QB Paxton Lynch is interesting, but not a target! Don't buy it!

Moving forward: It's simple, the Saints want to trade back. If they can't find a team to trade back with, they'll simply make the pick at 12th overall. The name I keep hearing is Louisville defensive lineman Sheldon Rankins. When you talk to him, you can't help but think "He's a fit, all the way around." Ranking has production in college (a valued trait), character (another valued trait) and ability. I've been told by evaluators in the league he reminds the Saints of St. Louis Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald. Enough said there, right?

Trade up: I'm mystified by the notion the Saints would want to trade up for a player, but if there is one to covet I would suggest Oregon's DeForest Buckner. He's versatile, and perhaps the best fit for the Saints in terms of skills set and character. The problem I have is this; You're going to have to give up at least a 1st and 3rd rounder this year, and if it didn't work out for them last year why do it this year? The Saints have 1 player remaining on the roster from the 2012 and 2014 draft class - that hurts so bad! New Orleans needs depth and plenty of it. Why trade up? Buckner is a good player that will have a good career in the league but not worth trading up for. Does he score touchdowns?

Sneaky pick: Watch for the Saints to draft Mile Killebrew in the first three rounds. Killebrew is an interesting player out of Southern Utah. He has tremendous character and ability. Killebrew fits the mold of the hybrid safety and linebacker that is popular in the NFL these days. Watch him in rounds 2 or 3. Killebrew arrives at that the ball with attitude and bad intentions. I love this player, I spent some time with him at the combine, and walked away totally impressed. I would take him!
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Kristian: Saints release DE Tavaris Barnes

Ahead of the NFL draft this week, the Saints are releasing DE Tavaris Barnes, according to a league source.

Barnes joined the Saints as an un-drafted rookie free agent last season. Barnes logged 12 games with the Saints, but didn't record a start, and only posted 5 tackles. New Orleans had three un-drafted free agents along the defensive line to make the roster.

The only thing that I'm reading into this move is that clearly, the Saints are going to spend an early round pick on a defensive end or defensive tackle, and releasing Barnes is sign that his roster spot would be in jeopardy after this weekend's draft.

In just a few more days, we'll start to get a clear picture on how the Saints plan to revamp their defense.
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Kristian: Saints made a run for CB Josh Norman

UPDATED: ​Josh Norman won't be a Saint. Josh Norman is signing with the Redskins. So the Saints are back to square one. The Saints were interested in Norman, but the Redskins ultimately had the money to pay him. Interest and getting something done are totally different, the Saints now turn their attention to the draft.

PREVIOUSLY:

The Saints - of all teams - are making a run at veteran CB Josh Norman, according to a league source that told me "they are interested in Josh," and the decision as to where he signs comes down to the Redskins and the Saints, according to ESPN.

It's hard to imagine because the Saints have just $3.4 million dollars of cap space remaining. New Orleans can create some money, with a restructure of Drew Brees contract, and pull a rabbit out of the hat, but I am very much on record as saying clearly; this wouldn't happen. Apparently I was wrong about that!

The Saints are in the Norman sweepstakes on a possible deal that could average $13-14 million dollars a year. The Carolina Panthers used the exclusive rights franchise tag on the 29 year old cornerback this off-season but pulled the 1 year $13 million dollar deal off the table earlier this week. Norman earned all pro honors last season.

I would be shocked if they pull this move off. However, with the Saints you just never know!
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Kristian: Hokie Gajan - tougher than Marines

Hokie Gajan! The name, just feels warm, sincere and genuine. That's who Hokie is. I keep referring to Hokie in the present tense, at some point I guess I have to reference him in past tense. I'm not ready to do that yet, however, I am ready to celebrate and gush over a man that truly was a one of a kind. Hokie had a knack for getting to know people and making you feel important, making you feel like you were a part of the conversation. He didn't like attention, so he enjoyed learning about you. We've shared many plane rides together, training camp trips, and radio hours together. As my time with Hokie grew, my admiration and respect grew even deeper.

I was always amazed by his toughness. Hokie would limp through airports in obvious pain with bad knees from his playing days. Gout so bad in his joints that it looked like he had rocks under his skin, but not a peep. Not one complaint came out of his mouth. He just kept moving right along. I would have understood some self-pity, he wouldn't tolerate it. If I asked him about it he would simply say "Well, what am I gonna do? I loved playing and if this is a result of playing football, I'll take it any day of the week." Vintage #HokieTough.

When he was first diagnosed with cancer back in November, I did a show with him the day he found out. I was surprised how well he was holding up. I would have been a basket case and wouldn't have been able to do the show. Then again I'm not Hokie, not nearly as tough and nowhere close to brave. I've said this before, and I'll say it again; LOVE is word that is sometimes overused or loosely tossed about. However, I LOVE Hokie as men do, and I love him because you knew what you were getting every time you talked to him. He was just real. There was no act, nothing fake. Take it or leave it. He and I would talk often about sports, but more often about life. He was fascinated with my military service, and joked that he could have never done it. Yeah Right, Hokie would have made Marines look soft. He's that tough.

Occasionally Hokie would give me some guidance like a father about certain things going on in my life and more often than not he gave me advice as a friend. If I were stranded with no money and no food, he would be one of the people I would call, because he was dependable. I could count on Hokie. He would just say "Hang on Gomer, I'll be right there." No questions asked.

Hokie loved people. He loved his family and loved his team mates. He's the human being we all want to be. Simple, tough, funny and a tremendous friend. RIP Hokie, go teach St. Peter how to catch that red fish.
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Saints release preseason schedule

Another sign that football season inches a tad closer by the day - the Saints have released their 2016 preseason schedule. New Orleans will play the first two exhibition games on the road due to renovation work in the Superdome, where Who Dats can look forward to brand new score boards.

Week 1 - (week of Aug. 14) - at New England Patriots
Week 2 - (week of Aug. 21) at Houston Texans
Week 3 - (week of Aug. 28) vs Pittsburgh Steelers
Week 4 - (Week of Sept. 2) vs Baltimore Ravens

The times and dates of the preseason scheduled haven't been announced yet. The NFL hasn't confirmed the date of the regular season schedule release, but you can expect it later this month - last year they released it a few days before the draft.

With New England on the preseason schedule in week 1, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Saints and Patriots hold some joint practices. Last year New England traveled to the Greenbrier for three days of work against the Saints. Or the Saints could decide to work agains the Texans before the week two preseason game.

Read the official release from the Saints here.
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Kristian: Are the Saints in the market for a QB?

What if the Saints draft another Quarterback this year? Would you freak out or say "hell yes"? Obviously that depends on who the player is and if you think the team should be in the market for a QB of the future.

I will offer you this; the Saints are doing their homework on that position prior to the draft at the end of the month. Now, some of this is about gathering intel on possible future opponents. It's common for teams to interview players that have no shot of actually going to them in the draft. It's also possible the Saints could be eyeing a player at that position. New Orleans drafted Garrett Grayson last year in the third round, to be the perceived "QB of the future" to follow Drew Brees. I find it really interesting the Saints are spending this much time on future prospects.

Nate Sudfeld is one player the Saints are hosting for a visit prior to the draft, according to an NFL source. Sudfeld is interesting because most draft experts view him as a mid round pick at best, and that's where the team found Grayson last year out of Calorado State. Not to mention that workout prior to the draft with Grayson was so secretive not many knew about it prior to his selection. However, what if the Saints are still eyeing QBs? Drew Brees is entering the final year of his contract, and is 37 years old. Kind of scary to think that New Orleans might be ready to move on from him considering the overall career he's had. All signs are pointing to the idea that the Saints are seriously looking at the position. Jared Goff (Cal) and Carson Wentz (North Dakota State) are considered to be the top two QBs in the draft. After that it looks like Paxton Lynch could be a close third; the Saints had a prominent presence at his pro day this week in Memphis.

I am starting to think, the Saints might be willing to take a quarterback in the draft. I'm not talking about taking a mid round QB but take one early if he's available. The team hasn't come to terms with Drew Brees on a contract extension, a move that many thought was a forgone conclusion at the start of the off-season. Could signs be pointing toward a divorce between Brees and the Saints after the season? Perhaps! What if Jared Goff (California) slips to the Saints at 12? What would you do if the Saints pick him? Would you freak out or give it a fist pump? That's a tough question.

The Saints have so many other needs other than quarterback; however if a player slips to them that Sean Payton loves, I could see it happening. After all, Sean Payton is here for the next five years (after a recent extension). Payton might be eyeing the prospect of moving on from Brees after this season. Considering that Brees could command as much as $70 million in up front cash to extend his deal. The move might be worth considering. With every passing day, and no Brees extension I think it becomes more and more of a real possibility the Saints seriously consider drafting a quarterback high at the end of this month. You can call me crazy if you want to but like I wrote about earlier this week, the Saints are far from predictable in the draft. History dictates that.
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Kristian: Expect the unexpected from Saints in NFL Draft

In less than a month, the New Orleans Saints will go on the clock with their first selection of the NFL draft at 12th overall. Minutes before the actual pick, fans and media members will beat the drum for one player or the other, hoping the Saints grab "their" guy.

Remember in 2013? Georgia Linebacker Jarvis Jones was right there for the Black and Gold, and he seemed liked the obvious choice at the time, but the Saints selected Kenny Vaccaro with the 14th pick that year. At the time it was a bit of a head scratcher, but Vaccaro has proved to be a solid pick after three seasons with the Saints. Jones, on the other hand has struggled in Pittsburgh.

In 2014, the Saints draft class was awful! That year, New Orleans traded up to draft WR Brandin Cooks. He turned out to be the only bright spot on an otherwise poor class that included CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste (2nd round) LB Khari Forte (4th round), and LB Ronald Powell (5th round).

READ MORE: Mike Detillier's first round Draft predictions

The 2015 draft class looks to be pretty solid, but this class also had a head scratcher pick, when the Saints grabbed OT Andrus Peat with the 13th overall pick. Immediately the reaction was "Huh? An offensive player when you needed defense?" Nonetheless, it was another example that shows the Saints really do try and draft based on best player available opposed to need. Now, whether that philosophy has worked out is debatable. All the mock drafts that I've seen (mine included) have the Saints going defense with their first pick this year.

So in other words it will likely be an offensive player the Saints grab. Shocking? Not really. I call your attention to 2007, when the Saints were picking in the bottom of that round and with Tight End Greg Olson on the board, they grabbed WR Robert Meachem. Yeah, another what the heck moment.

The Saints have missed on some picks early, and hit on some picks late. For instance, the sneaky good pick of 2013 was in the third round when they drafted LT Terron Armstead out of Arkansas Pine Bluff. Armstead is starting to emerge as one of the top left tackles in the league, and is set for a pretty significant pay day in the near future. So when the Saints go on the clock on April 28th, you might be better served looking forward to the surprise.

Disregard the mock drafts - the Saints will once again go against the grain or conventional draft expert's thoughts!
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