Best Saints Team?: We are officially into the summer now! The Saints wrapped up their final organized team activity this week as they look ahead to training camp next month.
"We're not only excited about what took place and happened in the OTAs, we're really, really looking forward to getting to training camp. This might be the most talented football team that we have had since we've been here," Assistant Head Coach Joe Vitt stated. "Now the mandate is going to be to put this thing together and move forward."
That's saying a lot considering the Saints have won 41 games the past three seasons gone to two NFL Championships and won a Super Bowl.
Payton spirit still there: I know Sean Payton is alive and well, but it's almost like you can still feel him at Saints camp. At least his signature is still all over the place. The practices look the same as if he were out there. "I think Sean (Payton) would be very, very proud with this coaching staff. I think Sean would be very, very proud of the job the support staff has done from the trainers to equipment men to the cinematographers. When Sean left here there was one mandate - do your job. And these guys have definitely done their job."
Hard Work: Vitt has been pleased with the offseason workouts. "I think as we talk about the end of our OTA's now, the intent of our players has been outstanding. We've got a lot of stuff done. We've got our first and second down package in with all personnel groupings. We've got the third down package in with all down on distances, which is something that we missed last year due to the lack of OTA's," Vitt explained.
Vitt says the team accomplished a lot during the 6 week off-season program. "We got into the red zone, into the tight red zone where we worked exclusively the past three days. We've got our short yardage packed in, we've got our 22 personnel package in that we use in the middle of the field and today we got to the goal line. When you take a look at everything that we have gotten in during these OTAs, it's been outstanding. The teaching has been great. Our coaches have done an outstanding job at evaluating the personnel that we have on our team, what's their strength, what are their weaknesses. We've got our training camp schedule really finished now, just knowing the players that we have and what we've got to work on. It's been outstanding."
Bad luck: There is bad luck, and there is just downright awful luck. Second year defensive end Greg Romeus has the later. Romeus tore his ACL and MCL ligaments in his knee "running in practice earlier in the week," according to Vitt. The second year man out of Pittsburgh had what amounted to a "red-shirt" rookie season. He was on the non-football injury list the entire year after sustaining a knee injury in college. The Saints selected him in the 7th round despite the injury concern. "This kid has really worked hard. The whole team and the whole coaching staff feels bad for him, but this is part of the game. This kid has put in the time, the effort, and he's got to go through the whole process again. But we're going to be there for him and support him," Vitt said.
Romeus is expected to miss the next 6 to 8 months. New defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo had high praise for him early in the offseason. The injury and looming four game Will Smith suspension leave the Saints dangerously thin at defensive end, a position that is the centerpiece to Spagg's scheme.
Back up to the Back up: It's been Chase Daniel leading the Saints offense in the absence of Drew Brees. Daniel missed the final practice after banging his thumb of his throwing hand on a helmet earlier this week. Daniel talked about the injury after practice, "The way I see it is that it's a lot more of a sprain than a hairline fracture. When we saw the x-rays, there was a little bitty line right there, but literally it feels like a jammed thumb right now. The swelling has come down a lot. It's getting better already, and that's a good thing." Daniel is expected to heal in about 2 weeks and will be ready to come for training camp.
Vilma: The Saints will pretty much be all hands on deck for training camp on July 26th, except for Romeus and middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who's still recovering from offseason knee surgery. Vitt said how soon he will be ready for action is tough to predict. "I think he's made as big of strides in the last three weeks where he's to the point now where he can do some jogging. I think that's all positive, and I know he feels good about where he is. With Vilma, you have to keep the reins on him because if there's a game tomorrow, he wants to play in it. If there's a game in the parking lot, he wants to play in it. We have to be smart with him, but he's made great strides. I'm not sure that I can accurately give you a timetable on him, but he's getting better." Vilma also is waiting on an appeal of his season long suspension for involvement in the team's alleged bounty program.
Tee it up: The Saints will have a team building exercise today on the golf course. They'll play a "scramble" and have a driving contest. Safety Roman Harper said Wednesday that he is confident in his game, "If I hit it down hill and get a good bounce I'm going to be good. I can get it about 315 (yards). Tomorrow's going to be my time to shine, I am looking forward to it."
Several media outlets are reporting that the Saints have presented a new contract offer to quarterback Drew Brees. Well, that's welcome news, but it's similar to what I've been reporting all day, and earlier this morning.
The Saints have extended Drew Brees a new contract offer, and it's undetermined or unknown right now if that will sway Drew Brees into agreeing to terms on that long-term contract offer. Right now, we're kind of in a holding pattern.
In other words, now the Brees camp is considering the latest offer from the Saints. They were previously at a $2 million dollar impasse, and I reported earlier that they were closer than that, and they've narrowed that margin down quite a bit. It's another sign that things are moving in a positive direction.
Fight it out: Sometimes it just happens for no reason, and sometimes the fights are staged. In this morning's practice, linebacker Curtis Lofton got under the skin of quarterback Chase Daniel during team period of practice. Lofton got a little too close to Daniel on a would-be sack, and the QB took exception to it. Some pushing and shoving went on, and there you have the first "scuffle" of mini-camp. Albeit, they all kissed and made up afterward, it was still the highlight of the day. Lofton and Daniel have a long history going back to their college days of competing against one another. Lofton's Oklahoma squad beat Daniel and Missouri in their conference championship game. Lofton reminds Daniel of that game, and often.
Patrick Pick: Defensive back Johnny Patrick had what amounted to a red-shirt rookie year in 2011. This year Patrick looks like he's ready to step up and fill the nickel back roll. Patrick made a nice interception of Chase Daniel this morning "I think the biggest leap a cornerback makes is between year 1 and year 2, and Johnny is trying to prove he can do that for us," Assistant Coach Joe Vitt said after practice. The second-year man out of Louisville is well on his way to establishing his role on the defense.
Maybe Morgan: Wide receiver Joe Morgan continues to impress the coaching staff with his deep speed. Morgan has made several big plays down the field during mini-camp. "He's been impressive with his deep speed, being able to make plays and stretch the defense," said Offensive Coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr.
Morgan, out of Walsh College, was last pre-season's darling before landing on injured reserve with a knee injury. "We have to find out about his special teams coverage ability," said assistant Coach Joe Vitt.
Different feel: The feel at Saints minicamp is different for many reasons, starting with the absence of quarterback Drew Brees. I’m so used to seeing him out there, that I can’t remember what practice was like without him being out there. Mini-camp also has a different feel because it is in fact different. Gone are the days where practices in shorts would still be physical. There is virtually no contact in practice. There is no real explosiveness. The practices now are a glorified walk through. That’s about it. Plus this time last year we were in the midst of a lock out so I guess it’s better than the alternative.
Daniel Day: Chase Daniel has taken advantage of getting the first team reps in Brees’ absence. He’s looked similar, but not the same in practice. “I’m trying to prepare myself to be the starter…I know it’s Drew’s team and we all him back as soon as possible. But I have to prepare myself to be a starter and I think I’m proving myself” Daniel said. Chase has been in the offensive system for four seasons now, and looks promising, but the ball placement to receivers is where he struggles. He just doesn’t have the accuracy of Brees.
Don’t count Shanle out of the mix: Fans have wanted linebacker Scott Shanle out of the lineup for years. The competition keeps jumping in the boat and he keeps throwing them back out. I think that changes this year with the additions of David Hawthorne, and Chris Chamberlain. Shanle is a wiley veteran now and knows exactly what this league is about. “You can’t play in this league if you are afraid of competition, it makes our team better. I embrace it,” Shanle said.
Strief disappears: Offensive tackle Zack Strief was not at the afternoon practice on Tuesday, and we didn’t get an explanation from assistant coach Joe Vitt as to why. We’ll find out more Wednesday.
A pretty good turnout of Who Dats at the first mini-camp today. I'd say an above-average sized crowd. There were a few "Sign Drew" signs, but most fans I talked to are just waiting with baited break like the rest of us for any news about Drew's contract. You could tell the crowd was really helping to energize the players on the field.
So instead of looking at Drew Brees under center, the Who Dats who did turn out watched Chase Daniel and Sean Canfield, along with a new addition to the roster. The team brought in another veteran journeyman, backup quarterback Luke McKown for mini-camp, as an extra arm to kind of get through the workouts.
Chase Daniel did a pretty good job. I thought he looked sharp, crisp running the first-team offense. He opened up the team period with a 45-yard strike to Dave Thomas on a nice pass play, so the offense ran pretty well.
McKown played for the Jaguars last year and for the Bucs from 2005 to 2008. He's got some Louisiana ties, having played for Louisiana Tech before getting drafted by the Browns in the 4th round in 2004 We'll see if Luke sticks around on the roster through the mini-camp, and that of course depends upon when they get Drew Brees signed.
So, three QB's at Saints mini-camp, and none of them are Drew Brees.
On the field, it really was quieter out at camp than it was the last couple of years, now that Gregg Williams isn't on the field. Williams was really known for being loud, blunt, an "in your face" kind of motivator. Steve Spagnuolo is more of a teacher, with not as much hollering and profanity as we've heard in the past. It's more of a teaching atmosphere. Different styles for different guys.
Saints players hit the field today for three days of the team's Mini-Camp at the training facility on Airline Drive. First things first, in all likelihood Drew Brees will NOT be in attendance as he is still not under contract with the Saints. With that said here is what to watch for.
Daniel with the first team
Quarterback Chase Daniel has been leading the Saints offense in Brees' absence throughout Organized Team Activities. While Daniel has looked solid for the most part, he's no Brees... and for that matter not too many people are in that class. The offense isn't as crisp, the ball comes out on time, but for the most part Daniel doesn't have the accuracy that separates Brees from most quarterbacks. If Daniel has to play at all this season, he should benefit from the extended reps he's received during the offseason. However, the Saints just look ordinary without Brees under center.
Different Defensive look
You'll notice almost immediately that the Saints defense has an entirely different philosophy under new Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. It's yet to be seen if the defense will be better or worse, but from what I have seen, the defense won't be matched up in so many man to man coverage situations. Spags likes to keep his secondary in zone coverages, with their eyes on the football so they can make more attempts at interceptions. Now that's not to say he won't bring pressure, but it's not the sell out blitzes that we witnessed under former coordinator Gregg Williams.
The Saints all of a sudden are deeeeeeeep at this position. Fans have been clamoring for an upgrade for several years, and they've got it now. The Black and Gold brought in three linebackers during free agency in Curtis Lofton, David Hathorne and Chris Claiborne. Lofton is clearly the answer in the middle of the defense, and you can see it on the field. Lofton is all over the field, and I think his best football is ahead of him. Hawthorne will compete for a starting job at outside linebacker, as will Claiborne. Scott Shanle continues to be in the mix as well. Like it or not, the Saints have brought in several guys to compete with Shanle and none of them have been able to get him off the field.
The Saints might have pulled off another draft day steal with the selection of receiver Nick Toon out of Wisconsin in April's NFL draft. Toon has been impressive during the 6 practice sessions of Organized Team Activities. He's received high praise from the coaches and players in his short time with the Saints. I'm told he's picking up the offense at a "veterans pace." That bodes well for rookie. The coaches often say when a player isn't thinking, and just reacting, he often performs much better. Watch Toon catch everything, and I mean everything. He's a huge target with great hands. Brees is going to love this target when he gets his long term deal done.