Today Corner Back Jabari Greer suffered a groin injury. "We'll further evaluate him," explained Coach Joe Vitt. On Sunday defensive back Patrick Robinson went down with a shoulder injury, it is not believed to be serious. Greer and Robinson are the team's top 2 cornerbacks. It would probably be a safe bet neither play in the Hall of Fame game Sunday against the Cardinals. Robinson missed practice today still nursing his shoulder injury. Second year man Marquis Johnson and Johnny Patrick ran with the first team defense in their absence. Rookie Corey White played the nickel back position and Drew Brees victimized his often.
The defense is different under new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, it's still aggressive though. In the first team portion of practice Spaggs was smiling as his defense got the better of the "Krewe de Drew" offense. In the early stages of the ones vs ones... defensive end Cameron Jordan dropped back from his end position and batted a Brees pass in the air. That allowed CB Marquis Johnson to reel it in for an INT. There were several more instances that Brees had to pull the ball down and go to his third or fourth option in the passing route. The defense probably registered two sacks in that team period, one from Jordan and one from Wilson.
You can clearly see the game plan on defense... make the Quarterback hold the football with confusing coverage's. I think the defense is going to be vastly improved this season, and I think it could happen in a short amount of time. The players are grasping the system really well.
I know I am getting repetitive here, but defensive end Cameron Jordan has the look of player ready to really have a breakthrough season. In one on one pass drills he was virtually impossible to block, with a good finesse move and power move. Jordan's athleticism is noticed when he plays defensive tackle. He uses his speed to get by offensive guards. What's more? Yeah he plays the run really well. He's hard to move, and can drop off into pass coverage in Spagg's zone blitz scheme. I guess he was right after making the comment the other day that he has "sweet feet."
Rookie Wide out Nick Toon had his best practice of camp so far. After struggling with drops in the first few days of camp, Toon appears to have settled in. He made a couple of nice grabs today, including a one hander. The play of the day was clearly made by WR Joe Morgan, who's fighting for a roster spot. Morgan hauled in two nice deep passes during the team portion of practice that provoked a big ovation from the crowd at camp. If he stays healthy, Morgan will be impossible to cut because of his deep speed.
Kristian@wwl.com - Fans: The Who Dat Nation was well represented and braved the 101-degree temperatures at Saints Camp on Sunday. In return, the players rewarded the fans with some spectacular play. Saints officials say the attendance was over 4,000 fans. It's always entertaining to keep an eye on the Who Dats out at Training Camp. They know the roster up and down, and watching the fans’ sharp eyeballs, making the "early cuts" is interesting. (Although at one point, I heard one fan yell, "Devery Henderson, you won't make it this year." I politely turned around and told him I thought he was mistaken.)
Cam Can: 2nd-year defensive end Cameron Jordan is having a strong camp, and is light years ahead of where he was as a rookie a year ago. Jordan is consistently disrupting plays in the backfield, whether it is on the quarterback or the running backs. He's faster, his weight is down about 10 pounds, and this might be a heck of a year for Jordan. Joe Vitt often talks about the growth of a player from year one to year two, and I think we are seeing it in Jordan. In fact, the front four has been pretty disruptive so far in camp.
Drops: It wasn't just rookie wide-out Nick Toon struggling with drops on Sunday. I counted 5 dropped passes from various wide receivers (excluding Colston and Moore) during the teams 7 on 7 drill. Nick Toon had three drops today. For those that had him penciled in (and I'm in that company) as the starter at the 4th wide receiver position, it's far from a foregone conclusion if he can't hold onto the football. Adrian Arrington is clearly the leader in the clubhouse here.
Nickleback: Right now it looks as though it's Johnny Patrick's job to lose. He's made 2 interceptions in consecutive days, including a pick of Drew Brees in the team period on Sunday. Defensive back Patrick Robinson was victimized on a deep back-shoulder fade pass to Devery Henderson. It was really good coverage by Robinson, but an even better pass by Brees. If it were anyone other than Brees, perhaps by Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay, it would have been an incomplete pass.
Injury report: Defensive back Patrick Robinson left practice about halfway through the session after coming down hard on his left shoulder. Coach Joe Vitt described the injury as a "tweak". Tight end David Thomas missed his third consecutive practice with a sore lower back. Vitt says they have a lot of time with 5 pre-season games, and that there is no need to rush Thomas back on to the field.
Kristian@wwl.com - "Finally" was the word a fan said when she got to see the Black and Gold step on the field Saturday afternoon. Finally, indeed. After rain forced the Saints indoors for the first two days of training camp, the team finally worked outdoors in front of a large contingent of the Who Dat Nation. A very appreciative fan base cheered on nearly every move of the team.
Padded: The Saints were in pads for the first time in training camp on Saturday. Coach Joe Vitt said it was a good first day in pads, but also said, “The tempo has to be a little bit better, we gotta work through that. It’s never perfect the first day, that’s why we practice and this is a long process.”
Injury report: Tight end David Thomas did not practice again on Saturday after missing Friday’s workout with a sore lower back. Thomas is expected to be back on the field with a few days. “He went through the stretching and we are going to try and bring him along the right way,” Vitt said. “He’s about where we thought he’d be.”
Defensive Day: The defense might still be learning the new scheme under Steve Spagnuolo, but they were impressive on Saturday. Jabari Greer picked off a Drew Brees pass on the sideline and took in for a score. Drew Brees talked about the play following practice: “I know this; that made me angry. The very next play, Pete called the play and I said, ‘Can I call this instead because I want to throw one over the top of Jabari?’ He got depth so we weren’t able to get past him, but I was looking to make him pay the very next time.” Greer jumped in front of the pass that was intended for Lance Moore. Second-year defense back Johnny Patrick made a nice leaping interception of Chase Daniel and went about 20 yards for the score.
Tez: Martez Wilson is going from linebacker to defensive end, and he's certainly intriguing to have on the outside. Wilson, often referred to as "Tez," was pretty dominant in one-on-one pass protection on Saturday. He won 4 of the 5 match-ups against various offensive lineman. Wilson also had two would-be sacks in the team portion of practice. “Martez continues to really grow in the system. You guys have seen it with dropping defensive ends into coverage and things like that,” Coach Vitt said. “We drafted him here as a linebacker so he’s got a skill set to cover.”
Who's hot: I am beginning to sound like a broken record, but wide receiver Adrian Arrington has put together three really nice practices now. He's been in this system for 5 years now and has a huge mental advantage over the guys like Joe Morgan and Nick Toon.
Who's not: Clearly, it's safety Malcolm Jenkins. It's that not Jenkins keeps getting beat over the top in pass coverage, or that he can't tackle…It's when he has a chance to get his hands on the ball that he drops it. I can count three different times Jenkins has dropped would-be interceptions.
Foot race: The Saints are in camp with two place kickers. Garret Hartley is the man that kicked the Saints into a Super Bowl, and John Kasay filled in for Hartley last season when he went down for the season with a hip injury. I think Hartley has the upper hand here, but Kasay won't go away without a fight. Hartley and Kasay kicked well, with Kasay making all of his attempts from inside the 30 yard line. Hartely pushed one wide left.
The leg: As he's often referred to on twitter, Thomas Morstead was booming touchbacks on kickoff return drills. He set a record for most touchbacks in a season last year; he might break his own record this year. On punts, he was working on that corner kick, and he was drilling them today. He's come up with new style, and the ball comes off his foot almost like a helicopter propeller. That spin allows the football to bounce back up into the field of play.
Cool, classy move: Drew Brees bought the fans snoballs this afternoon at practice, and talked about it later, saying that it was a nice happenstance that came together.
''It was funny because a few days before camp, it was a hot New Orleans summer day and we were at Audubon Park, just playing on the swings there, and thought to get the boys some snoballs at Plum Street,” Drew told us. “We drove on over and at the time their catering truck was headed out to go somewhere. I asked if they would come out to training camp and take care of the fans and they said absolutely. Especially the first weekend, when a lot of fans couldn’t be here and watch us practice, it got rained out the first two practices, I just wanted to do something special for them, just cool them off on a hot summer day while they watch their boys play football.” How cool, indeed.
He is still here: Before anyone calls the NFL office and says Sean Payton is in violation of his season long suspension issued by commissioner Roger Goodelll, slow down. Payton was in the indoor practice facility, but not physically. The Saints, at the urging of Mr. Benson. erected a 30 by 30 foot photograph of Sean Payton in the rafters on the 50 yard line of the team’s indoor practice facility. It’s a picture of Sean is in the Super Bowl with his visor and head set staring right at the field. His lips are puckered and eyes are squinted with intense concentration. "I think everyone has gotten that look," said Center Brian de la Puente. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt said, "I think that was during the Super Bowl and Dallas Clark had a bunch of catches and I think he was looking at me." The symbolism here is powerful. Oh, and by the way, the caption underneath the large picture of Payton, "Do your Job.” Those were the last words from Payton to his team before he started on his season long suspension in April. "Scary" is a word that running Pierre Thomas used to describe the photo.
4th wide receiver:
Don't be so quick to hand the job to Nick Toon, or Joe Morgan. Wide receiver Adrian Arrington had 3 outstanding catches today. Arrington looks motivated by the competition at the wide receiver position. He's had really good days before; we've seen him do it in the pre-season. However, can he do it on a consistent basis? Can he do it when it matters? Plus, he's not a special teams ace, and that might be the difference maker. Toon and Morgan also had solid days, but by far Arrington put his name in the hat for that spot today.
Outstanding cornerback play:
That is the word assistant head coach Joe Vitt used to describe the play of third year veteran cornerback Patrick Robinson. "He's making plays all over the place. Every time he's lining up against the big play makers like Colston and Moore and making plays against all of them. “He's got ball awareness. Tracy Porter is going to be forgotten quickly," said Saints color analyst Hokie Gajan. Robinson made an excellent interception down the sideline taking the ball away from TE Jimmy Graham. "He's having as good a camp as I've seen anyone have," Gajan explained. Hokie also cautioned that it is early, but Robinson has looked really good.
Ingram: Running back Mark Ingram sat out of today's practice. Coach Vitt explained it was planned, and that it's a way of easy Ingram back into practice. Ingram is still recovering from off-season knee surgery.
Rusty? #9 Drew Brees rusty from missing the entire offseason? Hardly! Brees was incredibly sharp in his first day back in nearly 6 months. “ He looked like the same guy to me. He was on the money with several throws today hitting recievers in stride with great ball placement,” Bobby Hebert said. The receiving corps was obviously sparked by having Brees back, and were making plays all over the field. Lance Moore had the catch of the day after a contested long pass down the sideline. Moore hauled it in while falling to the ground after getting twisted up with the defender.
Sproles: Darren Sproles starts training camp on fire. He looks every bit as quick as he did last year, breaking off a nice long run to start the team portion of practice. The Saints absolutely stole one with this guy. Sproles in his second year looks like he should pick up from 2011.
In Charge: Joe Vitt is clearly in charge. From the moment the horn sounded to start practice, Vitt was barking out orders and setting the tempo to practice. The precision the Saints operate with in practice is spectacular. If you weren’t watching for Sean Payton’s absence, you wouldn’t know he was gone. “I think Vitt’s doing a great job with handling everything,” offensive lineman Jahari Evans said after practice.
Secondary thought: The Saints defense is still settling in. And, after all, they faced Drew Brees all afternoon…but all in all they faired out well. Cornerback Patrick Robinson looked really solid. “Robinson might have had his best practice in a Saints uniform,” said Bobby Hebert. Robinson got his hands on a number of footballs, breaking up the pass. “The real disappointment from today was Malcolm Jenkins, he didn’t look too sharp,” explained The Cajun Cannon. Jenkins got beat on a couple of passes, and dropped an interception that hit him right in the hands.
Spaggs defense: You can clearly see the difference in the scheme from Steve Spagnuolo to Gregg Williams. The defense is still aggressive, but it’s more of a controlled aggression with a lot of different looks…A “Zone Blitz” scheme with defenders looking at the quarterback instead of playing man to man coverage.
Health report: Running back Mark Ingram looked fluid, showing no signs of trouble following his off-season knee surgery. Chris Ivory moved really well and showed a really good burst. WWL Saints Radio color analyst Hokie Gajan agrees. “He looks faster than he did last year. He showed good bust through the hole, and looks really light on his feet,” Hokie said.
Confident: The Saints have every reason to pout and moan and groan. It’s been an off-season filled with controversy” bounties, Drew’s drawn-out contract, and suspensions of Payton and others. However, as Training Camp cranks up, they're taking the opposite approach.
Assistant Coach Joe Vitt himself is also facing a 6-game suspension, but says the Saints remain unfazed by what has happened this off-season. “This is all I’ve ever done. If someone asks me to go fly an airplane, I’m going to be nervous. If someone asks me to do open heart surgery, I’m going to be nervous. But this is all I’ve ever done. And when you have (the) group of players we have, and you have the group of coaches that we have, and you have the support staff and organization that we have, I think it has been great. It hasn’t been a one man effort. It’s been a team effort.”
90 man roster: The Saints training camp roster stands at 90 as they prepare for their first practice on Thursday. Vitt talked about plans for the squad: “We placed Jonathan Vilma on the reserved/suspended list today. We signed a tight end, Derek Schouman, who had played for the Buffalo Bills and St. Louis Rams, out of Boise State today. We made a roster move and signed Marques Clark, out of Henderson State and we released Kevin Hardy today,” Vitt informed the media of the team’s latest transactions. Vilma has another hearing Thursday in Federal court and Vitt said he would testify on his behalf if need be.
Lofty praise: Middle linebacker Curtis Lofton drew high praise from Vitt during his 27 minute press conference on the eve of camp. “You see Curtis play on film, I probably say this more when he was at Oklahoma coming out than with Atlanta because I’m not on that side of the ball. You say a tackle to tackle thumper. And now when Curtis gets here, he has really reshaped his body. He has lost 15 pounds, he probably has a 34 inch waist. You see now his range, communication skills and leadership at practice. He and David Hawthorne have been here for the last 15 days working out in the heat here. There are a lot of things that are unknown about players until you actually get them in the building and get around them. What a great pleasant surprise this player has been.” Vitt was quick to point out that Lofton cannot replace Vilma, but he’s very impressed with what he’s seen so far.
Speaking at the “presser,” as we call it, Brees sounded the same tune: He’s $100 million richer, but his focus and determination is still the same. The future hall of fame quarterback says he’s still the same after inking the record-breaking contract less than two weeks ago. He told us that when he found out the deal was done, he simply went about his daddy duties and changed a diaper, and did some laundry. Brees said “My approach never changed throughout.” He didn’t jump up and down, he didn’t scream with excitement. He exuded the same confidence and humility that he had prior to becoming the richest man in the NFL.
Kristian@wwl.com - The Saints roster is a tough one to make because of the talent on the team. There is Superstar talent on the offensive side, and some ascending players on the defensive side.
WWL NFL analyst Mike Detillier tells me that many players on the bubble will need to stand out on special teams. "Special teams is always where a guy can make the roster as a young undrafted guy or a rookie draft pick," explains Detillier.
There are a couple of unsettled positions on the Saints that you should keep an eye on throughout training camp. First up: Who will be the nickel back? It's a position that has become so important in the NFL over the past decade. More and more offenses are using three and four wide receiver sets in the NFL, and you have to match them.
Locked in: Patrick Robinson and Jabari Greer.
Robinson has incrementally improved his play in two years with the Saints, and I think he is poised to make huge strides in his third year. Greer is the team’s best cornerback, and might just be one of the better defensive backs in the NFL. The Saints locked him up to a three-year extension in the offseason. Greer and Robinson are the starters.
In the hunt: Johnny Patrick, Marquis Johnson, Elbert Mack.
Johnson is entering his third season in the NFL after spending some time with Steve Spagnuolo in St. Louis as a 7th round draft pick with the Rams in 2010. “You would think he's (Johnny Patrick) the leader in the clubhouse but you might want to look around, through a trade or free agency,” according to Mike Detillier.
Mack has a chance to make it, and as a 5 year veteran he's the most experienced. "That's the area where the Saints don't have a lot of depth, and every team is like that. That's a problem across the league," said Detillier. Corey White is also in this mix, but will factor in more on special teams.
My take: I think it will end up being Johnny Patrick. He was drafted in the third round in 2011 with the idea of a "red-shirt" season last year.
Recievers - Locked in: Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Devery Henderson and Nick Toon.
Colston just signed a huge extension in the off-season. Moore is the model of consistency. Henderson is the team’s best deep threat and run blocker. Toon is penciled in as the fourth wide-out after the team grabbed him in the 4th round back in April. "There is no doubt he'll make this team," said Detillier. "Injuries always make your roster easier to decipher."
In the hunt: Courtney Roby, Adrian Arrington, and Joe Morgan .
"Roby is going to be a tough guy to unseat," said Detillier. Roby's value is on special teams, and that might give him an edge. Arrington has been on the roster as a practice squad player and made the move to the active roster in the post-season last year. He might just be the odd man out in this position group. "Last year, does he make this team if Joe Morgan is healthy? He's always been aided by injury," Detillier pointed out. Arrington has not proven he can play special teams. The most intriguing player is Joe Morgan. He was impressive in training camp and the pre-season last year, but a toe injury forced him to spend the season on injured reserve.
My take: Roby and Morgan make the team here. Roby is to valuable on special teams and Morgan has way to much speed to let walk out of the door.
Oh and by the way…the Saints ARE pretty talented in a lot of areas. Training camp practice gets underway Thursday at 4pm. The practice is open to the public. Saturday is the first padded practice.
Kristian@wwl.com - The ''death penalty.'' It's the harshest punishment the NCAA can hand down for rules violations. There have been 5 schools that have received the death penalty in college sports. Kentucky basketball received the death penalty for a points shaving violation. Southern Methodist University's football program was given the death penalty for cash rewards to players. University of Southwestern Louisiana Basketball received the death penalty for academic fraud and recruiting violation. Morehouse College had their Soccer program shut down by the NCAA for having ineligible players, and MacMurray College's tennis program was handed the death penalty for offering scholarships to players in foreign countries. However, Div III programs can't offer scholarships.
All the infractions committed by the above-mentioned schools were in violation of NCAA rules, and were not criminal. This is a criminal matter, not an NCAA matter. Should innocent people in the community pay for the concealment of a crime by a coach, athletic director, and a university president? No!
If you are a business owner three miles off campus that thrives off Penn State football on Saturday afternoons at Beaver stadium, you couldn't possibly be in favor of the death Penalty. If a team recruits illegal players or commits academic fraud to maintain a players' eligibility, you are gaining competitive advantage. The NCAA governs sports...NOT federal, state, and municipal laws. Penn State didn't gain a competitive advantage with the concealment of Jerry Sandusky's heinous crimes. What if you were a high school Senior that just graduated, headed to Penn State this fall to play football? Should you pay the price for something that happened at the school before you even committed to attend? Especially if you didn't have anything to do with it? The kids currently on the team shouldn't pay just because the administrators didn't have the moral compass pointed in the right direction.
I'm not making the case for Penn State, or for Jerry Sandusky. I'm making the case for the football players, community business owners, the interns, the coaches, and other support staffers that had nothing to do with raping boys. Sandusky is getting what he deserves, and I am sure he'll get even worse in prison. Paterno is dead, his legacy forever tainted and perhaps ruined. The President and A.D could be facing criminal charges. The NCAA should tread carefully here before they execute a football program, because they could execute a community in the process. It's not their place to enforce the law, but to maintain competitive integrity within the playing fields of collegiate athletics.
Joe Paterno's statue should be taken down, and his name removed from the Library. The Death Penalty would only serve to make things worse in Happy Valley. As we've witnessed in New Orleans, football has a way of healing communities. Give Penn State a chance to heal through the same game.
Now that Drew Brees has inked his record breaking deal, it's down to football for the Saints. No more bounty stuff, no more 'when is Drew going to sign? It's X's, O's and Joes.
What is the biggest concern for the Saints headed into the 2012 season?
You could make the argument that not having Sean Payton is the chief concern for the team. While it's a legitimate one, it's not one that is on the top of my list.
"You’ve got to focus on what you can control, and that is what's out on the football field," NFL analyst Mike Detillier said.
What are we concerned about? Clearly it's the defense. The Saints brought in Steve Spagnuolo to run the defense after the Saints allowed Gregg Williams to walk to St. Louis. "You have to be able to put pressure on the quarterback, it's such a pass happy league," Detillier explained. How quickly Spaggs can get his new system in place will be imperative to the Saints success in 2012. He's not short on talent on the roster. "You have four first round picks on that defensive line - in Will Smith, Brodrick Bunkley, Sedrick Ellis and Cameron Jordan," said Detillier.
The Saints also revamped their line backing corps this offseason. The team brought Curtis Lofton over from Atlanta to lead the defense at middle linebacker. Lofton is a player that many thought was the best free agent linebacker on the open market. "He's a thumper in the middle," said Saints coach Joe Vitt. Lofton has average 100 tackles per season in four years with the Falcons. You can see he's a natural leader for this defense and Bobby Hebert compares him to a younger version of London Fletcher.
With the high flying Saints offense, the defense won't have to be "Dome Patrol" good, just good enough. If they can be in the top 15 in overall defense, the Saints are going to be extremely tough. "You know what you have in this offense, they're going to score a bunch of points," said Saints color analyst Hokie Gajan. The big factor is if they can capitalize on turnovers. Last year the Saints dropped 34 potential interceptions. Let me say that again, 34 potential interceptions! If they cashed in on half of those, that's a huge difference.
"If you can give Drew Brees a shorter field or a couple of extra possessions a game, he's going to make the defense pay with points," Detillier said.
Gone are the days of truly dominant defense's in the NFL. Sure you have some good ones in San Francisco, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh; however the NFL is about offense. Can you outscore you opponent, and not give up the big play on defense? The Saints have one of those needs met, now what will the defense look like?
I think you'll have the answer within the first four weeks. I think you will see improved play out of the Black and Gold defense this season.
Defense in the Dome with Drew Brees lighting up scoreboards... might just lead to a Saints Super Bowl in the Superdome.
Five years, $100 million, $60 million over the first three years. Drew Brees is certainly deserving of this payday.
Now it's on to training camp, and positive news for a football team, organization, and fan base that has been seemingly pelted with negative news after negative news for months.
For Mickey Loomis, this was the most important contract he's ever negotiated, so no surprises that it took a while. Months ago, you heard Mickey say that back at the Senior Bowl, and that they understood what Drew means to the Saints, and vice-versa.
It's very good to see it all meld together with time to spare before the Monday deadline.
There is still an eternity of time for the Saints and Drew Brees to work out a long term deal before Monday's 3pm deadline. While the Who Dat Nation is anxious, I would caution everyone not to get worked up for nothing.
The good news is that both sides want the deal to get done. The Saints have offered Brees $19.25 million per year. Brees wants $20.5 million. Where is the middle ground? That is what the Saints and Brees have to come up with. Teams are careful not to outbid themselves in scenario's such as this. New Orleans has exclusive negotiating rights with Brees at this point, why would they get into a bidding war with themselves.
The Saints have 4 days to work out a deal, and are a little more than a million dollars apart. That's chump change by NFL standards! If you are the Saints with time still in your favor would you come in with your best offer? The answer should be no. What you'll see here is monumental increases throughout the next few days to get that number closer to 20.5 million.
If you're Brees, you aren't accepting an offer when you still have sand in the hour glass. Why would you? The Saints know they're going to pay Drew Brees, and Brees knows in the end the Saints are going to win the contract war. How big of a victory is up to Brees. The Saints are trying to preserve the integrity of their roster, while Brees is trying to maximize his value. Contracts inevitably favor the employer when it's all said and done.
The Saints don't want Brees on a 1 year franchise tag tender for 2012. Brees doesn't want it either. That's all the more reason the deal should get done. It will be at the 11th hour, but the contract will be ironed out.
Monday will anxiety filled, but joyous relief comes at 3pm that afternoon.
What about the reports that Brees will not report to training camp if a deal is not done by Monday? Welcome to negotiating! Each side is doing their best in the final hours to get the other side to blink. Agents leak things to help their client. Those reports may be accurate and truthful, but you can bet it's a negotiating tactical move as the clock ticks faster and faster.
Kristian@wwl.com - July 16th is D-Day for the Saints and Drew Brees as the two sides try to hammer out a new contract. Will it go down to the wire? I expect it to be pretty close. The actual deadline is 3:00 p.m. on that Monday. I don't think it will be at 2:59, but probably headed into that weekend before a deal is struck. The Saints and Brees have too much to lose. Both sides want a deal, and that's the most important part of the equation.
With last week’s grievance going in the favor of Brees, it gives both sides a working guideline on numbers for a new deal. Sure, things can always go wrong, but at the end of the day this deal will get done on or before the July 16ht deadline.
The position Brees is in isn't exactly one of great power, and the Saints know public opinion isn't in their corner right now. However, the Saints also know that Brees can't miss training camp and pre-season games. It's not in his makeup to hold out and not sign the franchise tag tender that he would play under in 2012 if the Black and Gold and Drew don't work out a long term deal.
I know it's been an anxious several months in Who Dat land, but the tensions will be deflated a bit, and a happier Saints organization and Brees is on the horizon. I've been asked recently, "Do you think there will be any hard feelings between Brees and the Saints?" No chance! They'll kiss and make up once the deal is done. In fact, I can hear it in the press conference right now. "We have tremendous respect for one another and these deals just have a process." I don't know who exactly will say that but I bet it will be something along those lines.
Kristian@wwl.com - With the Saints set to begin training camp in just about three weeks, there are a ton of questions surrounding the Black and Gold as they embark on the 2012 season. It’s a season in which they insist will not be distracted from a tumultuous off-season filled with the "Bounty" scandal that cause their head coach to be suspended for the entire year.
Bounty hangover: Will the Saints suffer from a bounty hangover? Will the team get out of the gates quickly despite having to answer seemingly endless questions about the alleged “pay for pain” program implemented by the team from 2009 to 2011? I think this will be a non-factor. The Saints have a load of veteran leadership on this team. Quarterback Drew Brees is still in the mix, and with that is a chance for greatness. Don't count on a bounty hangover here.
Hard feelings: Will Drew Brees have hard feelings over contract talks that dragged on into the summer? Once the deal is done (and it WILL) get done before July 16th) both sides will “kiss and make up,” and that will be that. The Saints won't hold a grudge and Brees won't hold one either. This is business. The deal will get done, and both sides will say how much they love one another. It's like a marriage… they're arguing a bit right now...then it's good old-fashioned soul mate love. Get the Barry White CD ready.
Hosting the big one: The Super Bowl is in New Orleans in February of 2013. Will the Saints feel the pressure of being the first team to play in the big game in their own home stadium? Nope! They're embracing it! They've made it clear that is their goal. Normally, I’d call the Saints the “underdog” in this situation…but again it goes back to veteran leadership and the Saints are one of a handful of teams that can handle this kind of pressure.
Payton missing: How much will the Saints miss Sean Payton? I think this is the biggest wild card in the group. They're going to miss him in more ways than his ability to coach the team on Sundays. Payton is revered for his preparation. He's got a tremendous knack for knowing what buttons to push throughout the week to get his team’s attention for the upcoming game. Payton not being in the building will hurt. I think he's good for 2 or 3 wins a year. Joe Vitt is a fantastic motivator, but he's no Sean Payton. And, don’t forget, Vitt himself will miss a few games.
New defense: How long will it take the Saints defense to jell? The Saints have three new linebackers and a defensive scheme that is vastly different than the one they ran under Gregg Williams for three seasons. Steve Spagnuolo's defense is complex and has a lot of variables to it. How quickly the unit can digest the new system will be a big factor in how successful this team will be in 2012. The good news is they aren't starting a bunch of rookies on top of learning a new scheme. This shouldn't be a big problem either.
Encore for Sproles: Can Darren Sproles duplicate his fantastic season of a year ago? When Sproles arrived, it was easy to see how quick he would fit in to the Saints offense. Nobody had any idea that he would be so dynamic in his first season with the black and gold, without the benefit of having a full off-season to learn the offense. Sproles is a match-up nightmare for teams, and I think he can be just as good or better in 2012.
Fan reaction: I'm interested to see just how the fans are going to react this season. The Who Dat nation rallies around their team like no other fan base in the NFL. With the chips stacked against their team, the fans will likely bring their A game to each and every Sunday afternoon in the Superdome as they typically do. However, I think the environment in the Dome will be even more electric and intense than ever before. The Fans have taken this off-season personally, and they don't intend to sit back and watch passively. The Superdome could be the toughest place in the league for visiting teams. The opposition can thank Mr. Goodell if it's impossible to hear in that place this season. Bring ear plugs and Tylenol, because you're in for a raucous time on Poydras street.
Graham reaper: Jimmy Graham had a coming out party in 2011, and can he "two dat" again? YES! No doubt he will. If Graham stays healthy, he's the kind of weapon Brees and company love to isolate on linebackers and Safeties. He's too fast and too big to handle. He's still an NFL puppy, but a bulked-up Graham could be in for another monster year in 2012.
Pete Carmichael calling the shots: With Sean Payton suspended for the entire season, its Pete Carmichael's turn to call the offensive plays in the Saints Krew de Drew offense. Will he have the same knack for dissecting defenses as his mentor? I know this...it will make it a lot easier with Brees under center. He is tremendous at keeping you out of the wrong or bad play. I don't expect a drop off in offensive production without Payton. In fact I think you might see even more aggressive playing calling in Patyon's absence, if nothing more than to prove a point.
Health: As with everything in the NFL you have to stay healthy at key positions. If the injury bug starts to bite at the offensive line position, the Saints could be in trouble. Other than Drew Brees, the Saints can plug in a couple of guys and not miss a beat due to injury. Health and some good bounces of the ball are a must for the Saints in 2012.
ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reports that an arbitrator has ruled in favor of quarterback Drew Brees over the question of whether this year’s franchise tag is the first or second time the QB has been franchised.
What does this mean for the contract negotiations? Well, first, the nuts and bolts: The arbitration ruling reported by Mortensen means is that in the unlikely event that Brees plays under the franchise tag this year, and then plays under the franchise tag again in 2013, his guaranteed 2013 salary would be more than $23 million.
The Saints were arguing that under CBA rules, a single team could franchise a player for 3 seasons in a row. Brees and his agent argued that the CBA rules should be read that a player could be franchised for 3 seasons, total, no matter what the team. The arbitrator sided with Brees.
In the real world, though, this means that it clears another hurdle for both the team and Brees. They both know where they stand now that this chess piece has been moved, and hopefully they can now finalize the contract before July 16th.