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Kristian Garic

Saints Sideline Reporter

"Double Coverage" Co-Host
Weekdays 6am-9am on 3WL 1350-AM

Twitter: @kristiangaric1
Email: kristian@3wl1350.com
Posts from July 2013


Kristian's Camp Recap: LT position continues to concern
Under the new CBA from two years ago, they can't practice in full pads for more than three consecutive days.  So, Sean Payton put them in shorts and helmets and shoulder pads today...so kind of a lighter practice, not nearly as much contact. They had their most physical training camp yesterday, and kind of backed off today.  Then, two straight days in pads leading up to the Black and Gold Scrimmage this Saturday morning.

All in all, I thought Tulane QB Ryan Griffin probably had his best outing today, connected on three nice deep balls, and then right after that, he throws an interception.  But I think he's making progress every day.  

LT:  Left tackle continues to be a concern...Talking to guys like Bobby and Hokie, we all noted that Jason Smith, who started out on the 2nd team LT behind Charles Brown, has been demoted to the third team, and Terron Armstead is now running with the 2's.  Smith is getting pushed around by the 3rd team unit, and Hokie said he can't even play LT in shorts!  I think that's the line of the day.

I just don't think Smith has it.  It's obvious, when they move a veteran down like that from 2nd to 3rd, and they put in a rookie who has never had a snap with the NFL, that says something.

You just got to hope right now that Charles Brown can stay healthy, and he's the best LT on the roster.  And he hasn't been able to stay healthy in his time through the NFL..but he says he's done a lot during the off-season to prepare, and he says he prepares better even before the game, than he did last year.

Standouts:  I think the secondary continues to make strides.  They are getting their hands on a number of footballs. For instance, Rafael Bush is a player who has contributed a lot on special teams, but he's now starting to make some plays defensively. I think there's some things to be encouraged about, especially on the secondary, on this D. I'm still concerned about the pass rush - will they generate it, who's going to be 'that guy?'

Notes:  Curtis Lofton sat out again today with a sore back.  

Practice closed: Thursday's practice has been moved indoors and will be closed to the public.

 











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Kristian: Most intense practice yet, and Wilson out 2-4 weeks
Martez Wilson down but not out:  Obviously, Saints fans have been waiting with baited breath to find out the status of Martez Wilson, the OLB who was injured in practice yesterday. Today, Coach Payton told us Wilson dislocated his elbow and will be out for two to four weeks, and when he returns, he'll be fitted with a brace.

That still gives him enough time to get ready for week one.  I think he's even got a shot to play in the Houston or Miami contests.

Also, Curtis Lofton was out of practice today.  Payton said he had a sore back, and they just kind of rested him.  That makes sense, because he's a veteran player and you know what you can get out of him, so why push him during training camp.

Jon Vilma has a new scar - He got a couple of stiches on the bridge of his nose due to a collision yesterday.  Shouldn't slow him down.

Intensity:  This was by far the most physical, intensity-driven practice.  I really like what Kenny Vaccaro is doing.  He's bringing a physical presence that this defense has lacked.  I talked to him after practice, and he basically told me they have NOT asked him to dial it down, despite the fact that he's a rookie.  You went 7-9 last year, why WOULD you dial it down?  Jon Vilma said that he appreciates his intensity.  They really needed it for this defense.  Rob Ryan likes it, this guy has the attitude you like.
 
Also, Nick Toon really impressed today, he's having a solid camp. I thought Joe Morgan probably had his best practice of Camp so far.  Along the line, they were doing some one-on-one pass rushing drills.  From the looks of it, Charles Brown is going to be the starter, in all likelihood.  His backup?  I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out to be Terron Armstead, because Jason Smith has just been embarrassed at times by Saints defenders.  That tells you that he's not very good, or that the pass rushers are better than they're getting credit for.
 
Cam Jordan looked really, really solid. 
A guy named Barraka Atkins (DE) looked really good, and LB Eric Martin, the undrafted rookie out of Nebraska, his stock also continues to rise. 
 
Offense vs. defense: There wasn't an obvious disparity today in who won and who lost, but I'll give the edge to the offense.  As we get closer to the Black and Gold scrimmage, you'll see the intensity ramp up a little more every day...and then he'll dial it back as we get closer to a preseason game.   
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Kristian's Camp recap: Loss of Martez Wilson would be huge
Key injury:  A big concern for me is Martez Wilson, the Saints OLB, who left the field a little early, and was favoring his left arm. They're already without Victor Butler, it would be a pretty significant blow.

However, after practice, it sounded like good news from the Coach, who said Wilson has an elbow injury. Payton says he doesn't think it's serious, but we've then again, we've found out in the past that the first look might not be something, and then it may turn out to be more significant.  

We'll see what he does tomorrow and the next couple of days, though they might rest him.  If he's healthy, that would certainly be good news, given that they're already down a LB in Victor Butler.

Standing out:   I think Preston Parker, the WR formerly with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, had his best practice, he was impressive in one-on-one drills.  Also, I think Charles Brown had his best practice at left tackle, holding off Will Smith and Junior Gallete quite a bit during team portion of drills, and in one-on-one pass protection.  I think he's clearly got a stranglehold on the left tackle position.

Looking ahead to tomorrow:  As we go on, we’ll see more and more contact every day.   I’m looking forward to them putting in the red zone and 2-minute drill, and I think there’s a good possibility of them doing that tomorrow.  And, I expect Payton to have the team go live (full contact) for a few plays sometime this week, likely by Thursday.
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Kristian's Day 3 recap: Pads start popping
Pads popping?  Well, sort of:  Sean Payton kind of eased them into the first practice with full pads, that’s how he traditionally handles the first few days of camp.  There wasn’t really a lot of hitting, really none at all.  He wanted everybody kind of off the ground, they weren’t bringing anybody to the ground tackling.  I don’t think you’re going to see a lot of that in training camp this season under Sean Payton.  Typically in the past, he’s had one or two really live sessions in training camp, and that’s pretty much it.  For the most part, that’s what we’ve had the first few days, but a few ‘thuds’ here or there.

It wsn’t the hottest of training camp days that I’ve been a part of, and you didn’t see anybody who was noticeably dehydrated.  The good news is that we’ve got through without any issues like that.  When you look around NFL camps, a couple of big-name players have gone down early in camp with serious injuries, and it looks like the Saints have escaped without anything like that.

What stood out on the first day with pads:  Clearly, the offense got the better of the D when they went to the team portion, with First Team O going against First Team D.

I thought that Luke McCown probably right now has the edge for the backup QB position today, he looked pretty crisp today.  Drew Brees was his usual surgical self, where he’s out there throwing back-shoulder fades.  

Nick Toon continues to open some eyes, and seems to catch everything that’s thrown his way, along with Andy Tanner.  You can’t deny that – Tanner, every time he’s targeted, he’s making plays.  Kenny Vaccaro got beat by Tanner on one of those drills.  

Speaking of Vaccaro, he’s a feisty player who has some confidence about him.

Could Tanner finally land on the roster for good?  Maybe.  When you look at that WR battle outside of Marques Colston and Lance Moore, it’s still open.  Nick Toon is in that mix, Joe Morgan, Kenny Stills, Andy Tanner, Courtney Roby, there are a number of guys vying for time at that spot.  Whatever happens, Tanner will need to be able to do something special on special teams to stand out.

Probably the biggest crowd of Training Camp so far this year, by the way.
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Kristian's Day Two Saints Camp recap: The quiet before the storm
The Who Dat Nation and players alike got to enjoy cloudy conditions today on Airline.  Coach Payton called it early again today, by about a half hour.  He indicated yesterday that he would. By all accounts, the conditionin tests yesterday were pretty strenuous, so Coach is giving them a chance to recover.

Payton knows how to dial it up and when to dial it back.  Tomorrow, the pads go on, and it's looking to be another brutally hot, sunny day.  It's going to make it that much more fun to see how the players respond.

They had a pretty productive day today, offensively.  Drew Brees looked like he was back to his normal sharp self.  Wide receiver Kenny Stills was a player that showed up a lot.  He had a lot of targets, he had a lot of catches today, got by on a deep ball as well.  So, he really made some plays.  For the offense, I thought it was a good day for them.

Play of the Day: As I mentioned, Kenny Stills caught that 70-yard bomb from Ryan Griffin.  On the defense, though, it's really difficult for them in the first two days and give up a deep ball. It's really hard for the offense to get behind them with the deep ball.

For Sunday: I'm looking forward to pads, I'm interested in seeing the one-on-one position battles between the D-line and the O-line, and pass-rush drills. That will be something to keep an eye on tomorrow.

The PUP (physically unable to perform) list remains the same: Marques Colston, Victor Butler, and Patrick Robinson still there, no changes.  
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Kristian: Saints defense wins day 1 of Training Camp
What I saw:  Basically, I saw the defense winning team drills.  In the first two plays, they got back to back interceptions.  Keenan Lewis made a nice interception on a deep ball from Drew Brees, Jabari Greer scooped up another interception...the D  forced a turnover, and also two or three plays later, a fumble.  So,  Rob Ryan’s defense is getting the job done, at least in the way that they want to be an opportunistic defense, and forcing some turnovers.  Clearly, if you're judging a winner and loser on the first day, though there were no pads, it was the D.

Great Who Dat turnout:   The fans were lined up at midnight.  I think it speaks to the expectations that are surrounding this team with Sean Payton back, everything back to normal.  I think there are a lot of expectations from the fans.  New Orleans has always supported their team, and the players really respond to it, they get off on it.  They like knowing that there are people out here.  Players have told me that it can get you through the tough moments of practice, when it's hot, and they need that little push.

Things that stood out - Payton cut practice a little shorter than we expected, but he's smart. He's always knownn what buttons to push, when to push his guys and when to back off. 

I was impressed with Andy Tanner, another receiver that sticks on the practice squad, and can never stick around on the 53-man roster...but all he does is catch passes thrown to him, he had a solid day.

Drew had an off day today.  He's going to redeem himself, of course. 

We’ll have to keep an eye on the skies for Saturday, there’s a pretty good chance of showers.

Injuries:  We saw Roman Harper, who was on the PUP list, participate a little bit today...and also Kenny Stills, who was on the non-football injury list, also participated a bit today.  So the PUP list looks smaller than we got from Sean Payton yesterday.
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Kristian: Off and running at Saints training camp
Kristian@wwl.com - The Saints reported to camp Thursday and went right to work, taking part in a conditioning test that some players said had some “Cross Fit elements to it.” Saints coach Sean Payton said the conditioning tests went well, and now the focus is on Friday’s 8:50 morning practice.  

PUP list: Five Saints players will start training camp on the physically unable to perform list.  Safety Roman Harper is recovering from a sports hernia surgery and will be limited for the start of camp.  Wide Receiver Marques Colston (foot) will likely rest the first week of camp before seeing the field.  Defensive back Patrick Robinson (knee) had a scope during the offseason, and Coach Sean Payton said, “We’ll monitor him week to week.”  Rookie wide receiver Kenny Stills (wrist) shouldn’t be out long.  “It’s nothing serious,” Payton explained.  

High expectations for Ingram:  Saints coach Sean Payton admitted this is an important camp for third year running back Mark Ingram. “He’s in great shape, it’s an important year for Ingram.”  The Saints traded running back Chris Ivory in the offseason, and Igram figures to get a bulk of the carries in the Saints offense this season.  Ingram has averaged 3.9 yards a carry in two seasons with New Orleans.

On a mission:  Saints quarterback Drew Brees says it’s time to get down to business. “I walk into training camp and it’s all about football. There is nothing else that is swirling around, at least nothing else that we are going to allow to distract us.”  When asked if at age 35 if he feels the clock is ticking on his career and another Super Bowl title Brees smiled and said, “I think 35 is the new 25, I’m at the stage of my career that I feel like I can play forever.”  The Who Dat Nation would love that, but unfortunately that won’t happen.  However, Brees still has plenty, plenty of gas left in the tank.  

Watson healthy:  Tight End Benjamin Watson was a solid pick up during free agency with the Saints this offseason, and coach Payton says, “He’s 100% healthy.”  Watson had little or no participation in the offseason program and will likely ease his way into training camp.  The veteran tight end figures to be another weapon to pair with Jimmy Graham in double tight end sets for the Saints this year.

My take:  It’s abundantly clear that Payton is back at the helm here with the Saints.  The start of this training camp is vastly different from a year ago for obvious reasons.  Instead of answering bounty questions, the team was answering “normal” football questions.  The focus is clear at the start of camp, and the Saints are relishing the “flying under the radar” aspect at the start of camp.  Most experts around the league have jumped off the Saints bandwagon following a disappointing 7 and 9 season last year.  That’s just fine with #9.   “We’ll fly under the radar, until it’s time.” Brees said. “I’m on a mission.

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Kristian: 3 Musts for the Saints to return to the post-season
Kristian@wwl.com - After a disappointing 7 and 9 record in 2012, the Saints turn their attention to making it back to the playoffs in 2013.  From 2009 to 2011, the Saints had a historical run:  Qualifying for the post-season in each year, winning a Super Bowl, and establishing themselves as one of the NFL’s perennial powers.

Now, for the Saints to make a return trip to the post-season three things MUST happen in 2013.

Payton Power: To borrow a quote from the Empire Strikes Back, “Now witness the firepower of this fully ARMED and OPERATIONAL battle station!” 

Well, you know what I mean…In the upcoming weeks, we’ll fully understand the power and influence of Sean Payton on the season.  He undoubtedly has diagnosed what went wrong last season with a football team that at times looked unfocused and lacked discipline.  I think this is the most fixable of three ailments that plagued them a year ago.  Payton will have a razor-sharp focus restored to his football team this season, and a workman’s like approach day in and day out.  

Commitment to the run:  The Saints averaged less than 100 yards a game last season on the ground, 25th in the NFL.  At times they simply couldn’t run the ball, and other times they refused to run the ball.  Upon his reinstatement to the NFL in January, Sean Payton pledged a more committed running game this season.   The Saints have the running backs and the personnel to get it done on the ground.  With Payton back calling the plays, look for the Saints to really get back to a balanced offensive approach.  In 2009 and 2011, the Saints racked up 13 wins in each of those campaigns in large part because they ranked 6th in the league in rushing.  That’s the magic number, if they’re 6 or higher…LOOK OUT!  This offense will once again go on some record breaking missions.

Defensive strides:  There is nowhere to go but up when you are the worst defense in the NFL a year ago.  With that said, Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan might have one of the toughest jobs in the league this season.  Can he turn around a unit that was gashed for big plays week in and week out last season?  Ryan doesn’t have to recreate the ‘85 Bears D, but just play somewhere in the middle of the pack and have an opportunistic unit that can get the ball back in Drew Brees’ hands.  If the Saints can create field position for the offense with quick three and outs, and force 20 turnovers this season they’re in the hunt.  If they can score on defense on a few more, it will be scary good.
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Kristian: Sharper says P-Rob not ready for the season?
Former Saints safety Darren Sharper dropped by Sports Talk on Friday.  Sharper, now an analyst with NFL Networks, talked about his upcoming camp for youngsters, this year's Saints defense, and also mentioned in passing that cornerback Patrick Robinson might not be ready for the season due to injury.

Wait, say WHAT?

While Sharper was talking with me about whether he thinks the Saints had a shot at the playoffs this year, he said that P-Rob might not be ready to go.  

"I'm going to go out and guarantee that (a return to the playoffs,) also," Sharper said.  "I think the addition of Coach Payton coming back, having Rob Ryan, some of the key pieces they've picked up via free agency, adding Keenan Lewis, who now I think is going to be the free agent acquisition of the year, due to the fact that Patrick Robinson might not be ready for the start of the season."

That caught me a little off-guard.  I asked Sharper to elaborate about why Robinson might not be ready.

"Well, you know he's dealing with a knee injury that he suffered from off-season, so I don't know he'll be back in time for the season."

Checking into this, so stay tuned for more. 

Click HERE to listen to my full interview with Darren Sharper.  The part where he talks about Patrick Robinson is at the 6:50 mark. 

Click HERE for info on Sharper's football camp that he and Roman Harper are hosting... 
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Kristian: Top 5 defensive players on the Saints roster
Kristian@wwl.com - A major part of the Black and Gold focus this year is obviously the defense, coming off a historically bad year that we’d all like to forget.  Do they have the tools to turn it around this year?

Well, on one hand, they don’t have a  marquee name on defense.  They don’t have a J.J Watt or a Patrick Willis, a top-caliber player that other teams have to game plan for.  Still, they have some players that can make life miserable for opposing offenses:

1.    Defensive end  Cameron Jordan: Yeah, I might have him a bit high on the list, but given his youth (entering his third season) I think it’s warranted.   Jordan had 8 sacks last season and is always a force against the run.  He’s a player you can build a defense around and I think is the best New Orleans has to offer at this point.

2.    Linebacker Curtis Lofton:  In his first season with the Saints last year, Lofton quietly tallied 123 tackles.  While he’s not on the level of Patrick Willis, (and not many are,) he’s a solid player and a tad underrated in the league.  Lofton isn’t the fasted or the biggest on the field, but he finds the football.  He has over 600 tackles into his six year NFL career.  

3.    Outside linebacker Will Smith:  A few years ago Smith would have topped the list.  He’s still one of the best pass rushers on the team and at times he has been dominant in the league.  Smith is experimenting with a move to outside linebacker in Rob Ryan’s 3-4 defensive schemes this season.  Despite the defensive woes from last season, Smith still registered six quarterback sacks.  His age (32) might catch up to him soon, but he’s still up there when you look at the numbers.  

4.    Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks:  It’s getting a bit hard at this point on the list.  Hicks was a third round draft pick in 2012, and some scouts felt he could have been, and probably should have been, taken higher in ’12.   He’s a massive man who might be the biggest benefactor in the switch to the 3-4 this season.  Hicks possesses a non-stop motor and made his share of plays last season.   The Saints might just be scratching the surface on a supremely talented player.

5.    Punter Thomas Morstead:   No, this isn’t a joke.  Morstead is legitimate weapon for the Saints defense.  His booming punts can put the Saints defense in great position pinning teams deep in their own territory and might allow Rob Ryan to take more risks.  I know he’s not a positional player, but make no mistake about it, Morstead has the ability to change field position in games.  That’s enough for me to put him at No. 5.  Laugh if you want, he belongs.   (Oh, and congrats…Morstead got married today!)

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Kristian: Best Training camp battles to watch in 2013 for the Saints
Kristian@wwl.com - The Saints report for training camp 2013 in just a couple of weeks.  There are plenty of positions that entrenched starters and established veterans will hold down.  However, here are a few position battles to keep an eye on.

Left tackle:  Jermon Bushrod is no longer protecting Drew Brees’ blind side,  bolting to Chicago in the offseason for a big pay day with the Bears.  It’s a three man race at this point with returning veteran Charles Brown in the lead at the moment.  The Saints took a flyer on former 2nd overall pick Jason Smith in the offseason to add to competition.  In April, the Saints drafted Terron Armstead out of Arkansas Pine-Bluff to compete with the two veterans.  It appears to be Brown’s job to lose at this point, but the position is far from settled.   Since coming to New Orleans in 2010 as a second round pick, Brown has been largely inconsistent and often injured.   Smith is exactly the kind of player the Saints have ''hit'' on in rescent years.  Can he resurrect his career in New Orleans?  Armstead is the tackle of the future, but is more than likely a year away from taking over full time.  The coaches love the athleticism the rookie brings to the position.  

Backup quarterback:  When you don’t have to talk about the starter at Quarterback that’s a good thing.  Drew Brees is among the best in the business, and in most camps the battle for the starting quarterback spot is the most talked about battle in camp.  That’s not the case in New Orleans.   Last year’s understudy Chase Daniel left in free agency to the Kansas City Chiefs.  The Saints brought in veterans Luke McCown and Seneca Wallace.  Also in the mix is rookie quarterback Ryan Griffin, but he’s more of a project developemental player.  Griffin is likely destined for the practice squad his first season.  Wallace and McCown will battle it out to become the No. 2 behind Brees.  Who would you be more comfortable with if (GASP) something should happen to Brees?   I think Wallace will end up winning the job over McCown.  From what I’ve seen, Wallace has better accuracy and fits Sean Payton’s offense.  McCown has to have a strong preseason and training camp to move past Wallace at this point.

Wide receiver:  This might be the best battle to watch in camp.  Veterans Marques Colston and Lance Moore are entrenched at the position, but with Devery Henderson no longer on the roster, the depth behind Colston and Moore is unproven, with tremendous youth and upside.  Third-year man Joe Morgan is the intriguing deep threat in this offense, but sometimes disappeared in action last year.  Morgan also didn’t help his case with an off-season DWI arrest.   The fourth and fifth receiver spots come down to a few players:  Nick Toon, rookie Kenny Stills, Courtney Roby, and Chris Givens.  Oh, and how can I forget Andy Tanner?   The Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebet calls Tanner "a poor man's version" of Lance Moore: "He catches everything, he runs good routes, and he could make a hand ful of rosters around the league."

The entire defense:  That’s right; the entire defense is a competition at this point.  With Rob Ryan taking over as the Defensive Coordinator this season, nothing is promised to a group of players that finished at or near the bottom in just about every statistical category a year ago.  Ryan will have to be creative trying to bring pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season, and he might rely on a number of different defensive combinations to do so.   Just about every position is up for grabs on the Saints defense, at least so it appears.  The coaches refused to allow a depth chart to be established in spring workouts and OTA’s.  
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Kristian: Kaepernicks' Cap Gaff
Kristian@wwl.com - San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Collin Kaepernick received some flack over the last few days when he was seen sporting a Miami Dolphins hat.  Kaepernick is a hat and shoe collector, and said the hat was merely a fashion statement.  
 
Was it?  Is it that simple?  Just a fashion statement?  Is it ok for an NFL player to rock the gear of opposing teams?  Why couldn’t he rock a 49ers hat to make his fashion statement?  He’s a quarterback walking in the path of legends in San Francisco.  The fans have seen greatness in Joe Montana and Steve Young, and doubt Montana or Young would ever slip on the colors or apparel of an opposing team.  Kaepernick is a rising star in the NFL and a potential face of the organization, he can’t promote another team‘s brand. 
 
I’m on team WWL, I would never wear a competitor’s colors, hat, or shirt.  As a leader he has to separate fashion from common sense. 
 
I’m all about fashion, but more importantly I’m about loyalty to your brand, in this case it’s the San Francisco 49ers.  After receiving some criticism from the fans Kaepernick, had this to say on twitter:  “This the hat y’all mad at? I’m goin wear what I want regardless of what you think.  All you need to worry about is the fact that I grind for my teammates and the 49ers! I plan on doin this until they won’t let me in the building! #rediculous #y’allmustbebored”.  
 
His reluctance to accept a lack of judgment and admit to a mistake shows a bit of immaturity.  Do you think for a second that Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, or Tom Brady would ever put on the colors of an opposing team?  What if it were a Saints player making a “fashion statement” with a New York Jets hat?  Would you be ok with that?  I wouldn’t.  
 
If you are a part of a team, wear those colors.  As a Marine, you would never catch me wearing a U.S Army , Navy, or Air Force hat.  Kaepernick deserves the heat, he brought it on himself.  
 
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