Every player, every coach approaches "cut down" day in the NFL a little differently. Saints coach Sean Payton and his coaching staff are charged with the task of formulating the teams' final roster they’ll carry into the regular season. NFL teams have to pare their rosters down to 53 players by tomorrow afternoon at 3pm. The Saints have some tough decisions to make at kicker, safety, and wide reciever. The Saints could have a few veterans and younger players released that will then likely be top targets for other teams in the league.
The kicking battle between Derek Dimke and Shayne Graham is a particularly tough one to call. Graham has the veteran experience and Dimke has the stronger leg. The Saints could roll the dice a little bit with Dimke, and if doesn’t work out, the team could always go back and make a play for Graham or another kicker that will be available. Graham is a vested veteran, and if he’s on the roster past week one of the regular season, his salary is fully guaranteed. I think Dimke ends up winning this competition.
The Saints apparently are collecting safeties, and five out of the six currently on the roster are virtual locks to make the final 53. Jairus Byrd, Kenny Vaccaro, and Rafael Bush figure to play prominent rolls on defense this season. Marcus Ball could also find his way into some defensive packages in games. Rookie Vinnie Sunseri’s likely contributions will come on special teams in the kicking game. Undrafted rookie free agent Pierre Warren is the wild card. He’s played well enough to merit a roster spot, but the Saints might feel comfortable in trying to slip him onto the practice squad. I think Warren also makes the roster, and could be a player the Saints move up and down the active squad based on injuries at various positions.
Have we seen the last of Robert Meachem? One week ago I thought it was a near certainty. Today, with the nagging injury to Kenny Stills (quad) I think it’s possible the team keeps 6 wide receivers. Meachem rejoined the Saints last season after Joe Morgan was lost for the year with an ACL injury. Stills, Marques Colston, Brandin Cooks, and Morgan are firmly in place. Nick Toon has made just enough strides and Meachem looks like he’s the odd man out. If the Saints release Meachem it will be a sure-fire sign they feel good about Kenny Stills’ recovery and availability for week 1 against Atlanta.
Roster Moves: Ahead of today’s 3pm deadline, the Saints officially announced roster moves to pare the roster to league-mandated 75 players. Four players cut were on the Saints 53 man roster a year ago; CB Rod Sweeting, DL Rufus Johnson Jr, LB Kevin Reddick and LB Victor Butler were among those released. QB Logan Kilgore, DL George Uko TE Travis Beckum T/G Manese Foketi were among the remaining four players cut from the team. Butler was the most significant name on the list, after an ACL injury sidelined him all of 2013; Butler suffered an ankle injury in training camp and just didn’t have enough snaps to evaluate. The Saints signed Butler last off-season to a 2-year deal and will get save $1.5 million in cap space.
Brees welcomes daughter: Drew Brees and his wife Brittany had their fourth child last night around 7pm. Brees said he and his wife haven’t decided on a name just yet. When asked if he’s fine with four kids, he joked, “She looked at me last night in labor kind of like, ‘this is the last one buddy’”. All four of the Brees Children were born in New Orleans.
Three observations: The release of Bulter and Johnson says a lot about a couple of players on the roster. Undrafted rookie free agent LB Kasim Edabli has really made an impression in the last couple of weeks. I’d say he has a better than average chance of making the final roster on Saturday. Coach Sean Payton has singled him out a few times in press conferences. Providing that he doesn’t play awful on Thursday night against Baltimore, Edibale should stick around on the final 53 man roster. Ronald Powell (5th round pick) out of Florida has really started to shine as well. Keep an eye on those two players this week.
Patrick Robinson: Got his hands on a few footballs today, and is clearly the starter right now opposite of Keenan Lewis at left cornerback. P-Rob had a nice pass break up and and strip fumble recovery in team drills today. “He hasn’t just looked good, he’s looked outstanding” said the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert when I asked about Robinson. “We need that. He can be a really good player, he’s just been set back by injuries and inexperience in his career.”
Joe Morgan says he is fine after getting up gimpy in practice on a diving catch. #Saints
Brandon Deaderick: He's another reason the Saints released Rufus Johnson. Deaderick has been getting more and more time with the first team defense in the last two weeks. Deaderick can play both nose tackle and defensive end. Deaderick is a free agent from Jacksonville signed this spring. “He’s stout in the run game, and has some pass rush skills. He’s a veteran and you know what your going to get out of him. I think he has a real chance to make the final roster,” said Hebert.
The Saints wrap up the preseason Thursday night against the Baltimore Ravens in the Superdome. Kickoff on Saints Radio is at 7pm.
Baby Girl: Saints quarterback Drew Brees was absent from practice today for “family reasons.” Brees and his wife are expecting their fourth child this week, so quarterback Luke McCown filled in for Brees with the first team offense. He was particularly sharp connecting on a few big plays with TE Jimmy Graham, and WR Brandon Coleman. The fourth baby in the Brees family will be a little girl!
McCown vs Griffin: It’s becoming very clear the Saints plan on keeping three quarterbacks on the roster. Veteran Luke McCown started training camp slowly, but has really played well in the games and turned it on in last two weeks, and has done nothing to lose his job as the primary back-up to Drew Brees. McCown is veteran insurance for the Saints with Brees at age 35. Griffin might be the future back up but for this year it’s a virtual lock that McCown remains on the roster.
It's very clear Luke McCown is staying on the roster. The #Saints have to keep 3 QB's McCown having a solid camp today he's been sharp
Stills back on sideline: Saints WR Kenny Stills did not practice today after re-aggravating his quad injury in Saturday night’s preseason game against the Colts. Stills admitted to having a few setbacks in training camp trying to come back from the injury. The latest setback to Stills will likely change the number of receivers on the final roster. The Saints will likely keep 6 WRs, with Robert Meachem taking the final roster spot. Until the Stills injury, I had Meachem getting cut with on the last roster beak down on August 30th. Meachem is a vested veteran so if he’s on the roster for week 1, he’ll be guaranteed his base salary for the remainder of the year regardless of his roster status.
Butler Back, sort of: Saints linebacker Victor Butler returned to practice today on a limited bases. Butler did not take part in any team drills. Another tough decision awaits the Saints coaching staff with Butler. Butler missed all of last season with an ACL injury and hasn’t been available going down early in training camp with an undisclosed injury.
Roster Moves: The Saints made three roster moves ahead of tomorrow’s 3pm deadline to pare the roster to 75 players. WR Andy Tanner, S Ty Zimmerman and OL Ty Nsekhe were all waived/injured. Tanner has been on and off the Saints practice squad the last two seasons and was ineligible for the practice squad this year. The Saints have to trim the roster to 53 players by Saturday August 30th.
Penalties: The Saints have been flagged for 32 penalties this preseason and Sean Payton and the players have said they have to get rid of the problem before the regular season. I know the NFL has placed a bigger emphasis on throwing the flag this preseason, and I’m sure it will fall off around the league once the regular season begins, but still, 32 in two games? The Saints aren’t the Oakland Raiders. Rest assured, Payton made his point clear to his team this week, and the penalties should be fixed.
Byrd watching: Saints safety Jarius Byrd was cleared for full contact drills this week, after starting training camp on the PUP list. Payton said Byrd will play against the Colts, but will probably be on a pitch count. The starters are likely to see the most extensive playing time of the exhibition season, but Byrd might be handled a little differently, along with cornerback Champ Bailey. Byrd has looked tremendous in practice this week, making plays on the football and just seeming to make up for a lot of mistakes in the secondary with great angles and exceptional ball skills.
Back to Brees: It’s hard to believe Drew Brees hasn’t played yet. An oblique strain held the Saints quarterback out of the first two preseason games, but he’s back and ready to go for the Colts. The Saints took a very calculated and cautious rehab approach with Brees and he looks nearly 100% judging by his arm strength and accuracy during practice. The Saints offense operated pretty well in the first two games against St. Louis and Tennessee, but Brees brings another tempo and pace to the offense. See if you can notice the urgency of the offense when #9 is back under center.
Champing at the bit: Saints fans have been waiting anxiously to see cornerback Champ Bailey make his Saints debut, and that will happen this week against Indy. Much like Brees and Byrd, Bailey likely won’t play as long as the other frontline guys. When Bailey has been at Saints practice, he’s looked very quick and moved well. Payton said at the start of camp “We don’t have to see the (future Hall-of-Fame skill) every play, we just have to see it once and a while.” Bailey was hampered by a foot injury that held him out of 12 games last season with Denver, and clearly isn’t the Champ Bailey of 5 years ago but still a player that can help this team win.
Offensive Line intact: For the first time this preseason the Saints will have their entire offensive line back in the line up at one time. Guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs have missed some time with various injuries. Sieno Kalemete and Marcel Jones replaced Evans and Grubbs in the first two games and did well creating running lanes for the backs and protecting the passer yielding just 1 sack in 82 passing attempts. You can expect the O-Line play to remain strong with two Pro Bowlers Evans and Grubbs back in there.
Griffin vs McCown: The backup QB job is far from settled, but I’m very interested in seeing who relieves Drew Brees when his work is done against Indy. Will it be Griffin or McCown? I think Griffin has a slight edge in the competition, and the Saints are going to want to see him with some of the starters after Brees calls it a night. McCown has played well in the preseason, and is that veteran journeyman who knows the offense, but Griffin has more upside. Traditionally the Saints have carried only 2 quarterbacks on the roster, creating some spots for other players that can help in special teams or depth on defense.
Saints vs Colts: For the first time in training camp, the Saints are installing a game plan this week for the Indianapolis Colts. On offense and defense, each team faced the scout offense/defense trying to replicate what they’ll see in Lucas Oil Stadium.
Cooks: Wide receiver Brandin Cooks returned to the practice field today after missing three days with a stomach virus. Cooks was limited, taking part in the walk-through and some individual drills. His playing status for Saturday night is up in the air, according to Sean Payton: “We’ll see, right now we have to make sure we can keep him hydrated.” Although Cooks is a rookie, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Saints hold him out of this one.
Secondary rounding in form: For the first time in all of training camp the Saints secondary is nearly whole. Three safeties, Jairus Byrd, Kenny Vaccaro, and Rafael Bush anchor the back end of the defense with Keenan Lewis, Champ Bailey and Patrick Robinson holding down the top three cornerback positions. Corey White has started to solidify his roster spot in the last week: “White is playing with a lot more confidence than he was just a week ago. You can see how much more comfortable he is. He’s been close to, or has picked off a couple of footballs in the last four or five practices,” explained the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert. Rookie Stanley Jean-Baptiste is still in the developemental stage of his first year. He’ll make the roster, but has a long way to go before he’ll steal some snaps from White or Robinson.
Roster moves: The Saints' current roster stands at 86 players after making four roster moves ahead of Saturday night’s preseason clash with the Colts. The Saints waived WR Tobais Palmer, DE Childera Uzo-Diribe, RB Timothy Flanders, and TE Je-Ron Hamm. The Saints have to trim the roster to 75 players by Tuesday at 3pm, and then to 53 following the final exhibition game of the season next Thursday night against the Ravens.
**NOTE: Thursday's Saints practice has been moved inside and will be closed to the public.**
Mandeville Packed: The Saints held a night practice at Mandeville High School, and it was a standing room only crowd. The players seemed to enjoy the interaction with the fans on hand and even admitted to having some flash backs to their high school football days. Coach Payton and the players felt like it was one of their better practices since coming back from West Virginia.
Byrd soaring, Champ making progress: Saints S Jairus Byrd returned to full contact in practice yesterday, and today really made some plays. In 7 on 7 drills, Byrd snared a one-handed interception off Drew Brees “There might not be another safety in the league that can do that. He was diving to the ground and grabbed it with one hand,” said the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert. Coach Payton said after practice they plan to play Byrd this Saturday night against the Colts. Cornerback Champ Bailey took part in team drills for the first time in nearly three weeks - the reps were limited, but still, an encouraging sign. Keenan Lewis also took part in team drills on a limited number of snaps. Cornerback Patrick Robinson also participated in practice today, but only during individual drills.
Observations: Rookie OT Tavon Rooks might turn out to be another solid find in the late rounds for the Saints. Watching him practice, he just looks smooth and is clearly not in over his head. At times, Rooks every bit like he can be starter in a few years, certainly a backup this season or next. WR Brandin Cooks missed practice again today - that must have been on heck of a stomach virus. Cooks has missed three days from what Payton described as a stomach bug earlier in the week. Payton didn’t address the absence after practice.
Deeper practice squad: The NFL made it official, increasing the number of practice squad players from 8 to 10 starting this season. That’s 64 more jobs for players, that ordinarily wouldn’t have one. The most likely beneficiaries from this increase are defensive lineman and defensive backs. Teams are constantly looking for depth at both position groups. With that said, that gives the Saints the flexibility to carry 5 safeties on the active roster and 1 on the practice squad. Right now, Pierre Warren (Jacksonville State) seems likely to land on the practice squad.
Byrd of Prey: Saints safety Jarius Byrd has been cleared for contact and was a full participant in practice this afternoon at Saints headquarters. Byrd says he plans to play Saturday night against the Indianapolis Colts in the preseason. Byrd ran with the first team unit in team drills, and made his presence felt early with a solid collision in the middle of the field on a running play with Mark Ingram; Byrd clearly won the battle. After the play the two players exchanged high fives. “He just knows how to play the game, you can’t teach the instincts this guy has. Byrd’s going to have a tremendous impact, I’m really anxious to see him in live action,” said the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert. “Now it’s just looking ahead to what we have to accomplish, not only for this game, but for the rest of the season,” Byrd said after being cleared for full contact.
Cadet’s Camp: Saints running back Travaris Cadet is quietly having his best camp of three in a Black and Gold uniform. He’s a much more polished runner and has had a number of big runs in camp, and ripped off a nifty 20 plus yarder today in team drills. The Saints are going to keep four running backs on this roster, and Cadet is closest thing to Darren Sproles. He’s not going to be as dynamic, but will contribute in the passing game and some in the running game. I can tell you from watching him at field level, he’s probably faster than he looks and has ability to erase angles from would-be tacklers.
Tooned Down: Wide receiver Nick Toon was the talk of camp early in West Virginia, but has cooled off in the two weeks. Toon looked like a virtual lock to make the final roster, but now I’m not so sure he’s there. Toon has been leapfrogged by Joe Morgan at the fourth wide receiver spot, and is in a battle with Robert Meachem if the team keeps five at the position. Toon had a few miscommunications today with Drew Brees on a few plays.
Up and Down: I reported yesterday that undrafted rookie free agent wide receiver Brandon Coleman had his best day of camp by far. Sean Payton acknowledged the growth he’s seen from Coleman in the last week, and was looking forward to see if he could build on the momentum he’s building. But Coleman had one of his down days in practice today, still struggling at times to catch the football.
Cooks and Lewis Sidelined: Cornerback Keenan Lewis missed his second consecutive day of practice still rehabbing a foot injury. Lewis worked with the training staff during practice today and was moving around pretty well. I don’t expect him to play this weekend, and it looks like he’ll be fine in time for the regular season opener against the Falcons. WR Brandin Cooks also missed practice still experiencing some lingering effects from a stomach bug that held him out of practice yesterday. Payton said Cooks still had a fever today and he held him out, and Cooks should return tomorrow.
Lewis: After suffering an undisclosed foot injury in the preseason win over Tennessee, CB Keenan Lewis practiced yesterday on a limited basis and missed today’s work out. Coach Sean Payton only offered a short explanation: “He’s working through the rehab.” Veteran Champ Bailey is slowly but surely working his way back into things; Bailey participated in the walk-through portion of practice, and looks like he’s moving significantly better than just a week ago. Saints rookie wide reciever Brandin Cooks sat out of practice today with a stomach illness but is expected to be back on the field tomorrow.
Coleman: Undrafted rookie free agent wide receiver Brandon Coleman had his best practice of training camp today, making several tough catches. Coleman has been the most inconsistent of the receivers on the roster, but today he worked in a few reps with the first team unit. The question now becomes, can Coleman build on today’s performance and make a strong push in the final two preseason games?
Nothing new to report on Byrd still getting feedback Payton hopes to have him back tomorrow #Saints
2 minute drill: Drew Brees guided the first team offense through a solid drive in the 2 minute offense to wrap up practice. Brees and company didn’t score a touchdow,n but would have gotten into field goal range if they were trailing by three or less. In this scenario it was enough, the offense needed a touchdown to win, so chalk it up to the defense. Ryan Griffin quarterbacked the second team, and also failed to get the team in the end zone. Luke McCown and Logan Kilgore didn’t get a chance to run the two minute offense.
Play of the day: You could pick from a few different throws from Drew Brees, who looked much sharper in his second practice returning from an oblique strain. Brees connected with WR Robert Meachem on a nice deep ball down the sideline. The ball couldn’t have been thrown better. The defensive back (Corey White) had solid coverage, but it was just a perfect pass from Brees.
Stan not the man, yet: Rookie CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste started camp clearly looking like a rookie, and about ten days into camp started to look more comfortable. I don’t want to call it a regression but Jean-Baptiste has struggled in the last three or four practices. The Saints love his size, and the coaching staff is teaching on every play he is in there. He’ll make the final roster, but looks like he’s destined for more of a special teams role this season, barring a rash of injuries at cornerback. “I know if I’m the QB in a game against the Saints and the moment I see Jean-Baptiste, that’s the match up I am going after. He’s just not ready yet,” said the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert.
Brees-ing along: Saints Quarterback Drew Brees returned to practice today in a full capacity. Brees made every throw with zip today while taking part in team drills for the first time in over two weeks, recovering from an oblique strain that held him out of the first two preseason games of the exhibition season. The Saints franchise QB plans to play Saturday night in Indianapolis when the Black and Gold battle the Colts in the third preseason contest of the year. Brees also admitted following practice that he would NOT have been able to play if the injury he sustained was during the regular season.
Byrd getting close: Safety Jarius Byrd is close to returning on a full time basis, and will be at practice tomorrow. Byrd was absent today, and Payton said Byrd is in the process of being cleared for full contact. The Saints signed Byrd to a 6 year $54 million dollar contract in the offseason.
Veterans on the mend: Aside from Brees, a number of Saints veterans were back in the line up in Sunday afternoon’s practice. Linemen Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs returned, taking every rep in team drills. Wide Reciever Kenny Stills also made his way back on the field after sitting out following a quad injury that held him out of camp after the first practice. WR Marques Colston missed Friday night’s preseason game against the Titans, but like Stills, was back at work. Cornerback Keenan Lewis, who left the Titans game with what looked like a foot injury, worked his way back in practice but was a little more limited, skipping one portion of team drills. It looks like Lewis will be fine.
Climate change: The Saints were reintroduced to the Louisiana heat in their first practice back in Metairie and Payton said the team handled it pretty well “It’s a climate change. Today we had cloud cover, so our practice after a game usually is not as long. We’ll be smart. Something I said, the water breaks will be a little bit longer than they were for the first three weeks. It’s going to be important that we stay hydrated with our legs, getting in the cold tubs, all those things”. You could visible see a difference in the players energy level at the end of practice.
Graham dunk: A lot was made of tight end Jimmy Graham’s two dunks after catching two touchdown passes against the Titans. The two celebrations were flagged by the officials as a personal foul. Sean Payton and Graham exchanged words after the second penalty and Payton elaborated a little more today “He and I met. I’m his biggest fan. I’m sure as we get going here that type of thing won’t be a problem. Rules change constantly whether you like it or not, or whether or not we voted for him. He’s outstanding. He’ll be ready to go. What took place in the meeting will stay between he and I.” Graham said afterwards “Obviously, I would never do that in a regular season game and hurt the team”
Correcting penalties: The Saints were flagged for 22 penalties against Tennessee, prompting Payton to call it “painful to watch” following the game. Payton said correcting those penalties was an emphasis when the Saints returned to practice. “Listen, I know they’re up throughout the league in the preseason, but I know we’re at the top of a preseason schedule. Those are things we have to go through.”
Saints QB Drew Brees participated in team drills at the Black and Gold's first practice back at their facility on Airline Drive in Metairie today
Brees has not thrown a pass in a full team session in two weeks. Behind behind center today gives a strong indication that he will be playing in the game against the Indianapolis Colts on national TV come Saturday.
Goal line: The Saints wrapped up their last practice in West Virgnia with a spirited live goal line session. The Saints had 10 plays from inside the 3 yard line and defense kept the offense out of end zone in 9 of the 10 snaps. It was very intense, you could hear Akiem Hicks telling the offense “You aren’t getting (expletive) in the middle, don’t even try it!” Hicks was right, the defense was outstanding in the goal line drills. The only Saints player to reach the end zone was running back Khiry Robinson with a two yard round around the left side.
Kicking battle: It’s been interesting to watch the kicking battle between veteran Shayne Graham and Derek Dimke. Graham looked like he lost some ground in the preseason opener after he bounced a kick off the upright on an extra point. However, the most consistent kicker in camp has been Graham. Today in practice he hit 4 of his 5 field goal attempts, including one from 55 yards. Dimke was 3 of 5, with misses from 48 and 55 yards.
Transition time: Aside from a walkthrough this afternoon, the Saints are finished with the Greenbrier practice fields until next year. “It will be a challenge transitioning back to practicing in 62 degree temperatures to 90 plus degree temperatures back in New Orleans, but we’ll adjust pretty quickly,” explained safety Rafael Bush. The Saints fly back to New Orleans tomorrow and take on the Tenessee Titans on Friday night at 7pm in the Mercedes Benz Superdome. The players will be off on Saturday and back on the practice field Sunday in Metairie.
Padded up: Saints quarterback Drew Brees returned to the practice field in full pads today. Brees still did not participate in any team drills and worked with WR Kenny Stills tossing the football about 20 to 25 yards and running basic routes. It’s a positive sign for Brees and the Saints, but I still think coach Sean Payton will continue to approach a full-time return very caustiously. I think you could look for a Brees return in week 3 of the preseason against the Indianapolis Colts.
Bailey: For the first time in over two weeks, cornerback Champ Bailey was also back on the practice field in full pads. Much like Brees, Bailey is taking it slow in his return and did not participate in team drills today. The Saints are kind of thin at the CB spot right now - Patrick Robinson is also on the mend from an undisclosed injury. He worked today on the side in full pads.
Crisp Practice: After what Sean Payton described as a "flat" practice yesterday, the Saints were much better today in terms of tempo and execution. The offense and defense went “live” again today in third-and-short situations. “Yeah, the offense had the advantage but not by much in those third-and-short situations. I thought the defense was really into it today and you could tell it was very competitive,” said the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert.
Play of the day: I will give this to two guys, one on offense and one on defense. WR Nick Toon continues to have a strong camp, he hauled in a 55 yard bomb today for a touchdown from Ryan Griffin. Also, cornerback Corey White made a nice deflection on a deep ball intended for WR Joe Morgan. Hebert goes on to describe the play: “Morgan had White beat, McCown put the ball on the money, but White made up some ground quickly made a great play on the ball batting it away at the last minute."
Rain and wind: The Saints battled the elements at practice today, and clearly, the elements won. The offense and defense shared the fault. In particular, the Quarterback-Center exchange was incredibly sloppy with six fumbled exchanges during team drills. Coach Sean Payton was not pleased: “It was probably our flattest practice since we’ve been up here.” The Saints' tempo was sluggish to say the least - the coaches called them back into the offensive huddle several times after failing to line up correctly. I think aside from the weather, an attributing factor is the pace setter in Drew Brees. Brees sets the tempo for the offense, and not having him effects the timing and rhythm of the offense. Altogether, it was good for the team to practice in bad weather, and they couldn’t have simulated those conditions.
Sean Payton said today was one of out flatter practices since we have been up here #Saints
Cooks not bothered by the weather: Rookie wide receiver Brandin Cooks was the lone stand-out at practice today. Cooks had roughly 4 catches for 150 yards and touchdown that covered 70 yards, outracing several defenders to the end zone. “Corvallis, Oregon has this kind of weather all the time, so I’m kind of used to it,” Cooks said after practice.
PT Cruiser: After missing a handful of days with and undisclosed injury, running back Pierre Thomas returned to the practice field in full pads today. Thomas' workload wasn’t at his normal level, but it was encouraging to see him back on the field. Some fans were curious to see him listed third on the Saints un-official depth chart, but I didn’t read that much into it. The Saints have always employed three running backs in their offense and that won’t change. Thomas might be listed at number three, but he’s still very much a part of their plans going forward.
Don't Doubt Brees: Quarterback Drew Brees is still “day to day” with an oblique strain that’s held him out for over a week of practice. Brees has been diligently working his way back, and you can see incremental progress. “I have no doubt Drew will be ready for the season opener against Atlanta. There is no reason to push it right now and you can see him improving everyday,” said Hebert. Brees was working on the side today with WR Kenny Stills, throwing 15 to 20 yard passes and going through drops and footwork. Hebert said Brees looks fine: “He’s got plenty of zip on the football, and looks like he’s completely healthy.” While he’s not completely healthy, if this were a regular season game week, I would venture a guess that he would play.
No more PUP: Saints nose tackle John Jenkins was in full pads today at practice; coach Sean Payton explained Jenkins has been removed from the PUP list. Jenkins did participate on a limited basis during individual drills, but did not take any reps in team drills. Payton said they’re going to ease Jenkins into practice and slowly increase his work load. Offensive lineman Ben Grubbs also returned to the practice field after battling some soreness in his back. Like Jenkins, Grubbs will be slowly eased back into practice after missing over a week of camp.
#Saints announce signing of FB Greg Jones. John Jenkins off PUP
P-Rob: Saints CB Patrick Robinson left mid-way through practice today for an undisclosed reason. Payton referenced his policy of not discussing injuries in camp: “No update!” he said and quickly moved onto the next question. Robinson is having a solid preseason and has been working with the first team defense for most of camp, especially after Champ Bailey has missed some time. “P-Rob has been really good this camp, and you hope it’s nothing serious. With Bailey out, the Saints are getting thin at the conerback spot,” explained the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert.
Slowly but surely: Saints QB Drew Brees is making progress, working his way back from an oblique strain that has sidelined him for five days and counting. Saints coach Sean Payton says Brees is “day to day” and he has not made a decision on his playing status for Friday night when the Saints open the preseason against the Rams in St. Louis. Brees played a light game of catch with WR Kenny Stills (also out with a quad injury) and did some twisting and turning motions doing condition drills. That’s a positive sign for the return of the franchise quarterback!
Ready for Rams: The Saints have done their best deflecting questions about facing their former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams Friday night. Tight End Jimmy Graham says they’ve watched the tape of the 2011 preseason opener against San Francisco. Williams as the coordinator for New Orleans blitzed the 49ers with a “casino” blitz (all out) 4 times in the first 9 snaps. The Saints had 6 sacks in the 2011 opener. Sean Payton has downplayed the match up with Williams and the rams saying “it’s not a big topic”.
Stan the man: Rookie Cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste has really played well the last few practices. SJB had a couple of nice PBU’s (pass break ups) today in team drills: “You can see he’s not thinking as much out there. Early on I think he was really just trying to digest everything the coaches were telling him. He’s playing faster because he can just react,” said the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert.
Rooks: Rookie offfensive tackle Tavon Rooks has been impressive at both right and left tackle during camp. Rooks started camp on the NFI (non-football injury) list and quickly came of the list a few days later. Rooks has a mean streak in him; he has routinely gotten into a couple of shoving matches with the defensive lineman in one-on-one pass rush drills. Rooks has looked particularly impressive in pass protection, often matched up with Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette, where he’s held his own.
Camp injuries: The list of walking wounded grew a bit on Tuesday at Saints camp at the Greenbrier. QB Drew Brees (Oblique) WR Kenny Stills (quad) WR Joe Morgan (undisclosed) OG Ben Grubbs (back) OG Jahri Evans (undisclosed) were the main headliners missing camp. WR Andy Tanner also joined the list of non-particpants in camp (undisclosed). Nick Toon went down today in practice with we know to be shoulder injury. His agent Ralph Cindrich said via Twitter "His shoulder went numb but came back quickly. Strength and range of motion is ok. I talked to him-he's fine". Good news for a player that is having a heck of a camp.
Drew Brees is in this afternoon's walk-through, doing some light throwing. Brees is slowly working his way back in.
Nick Toon down walks with trainers into locker room after taking spill in team drills #Saintscamp
Tom Benson: Saints owner Tom Benson received medical attention for the second time in two weeks. Benson was treated last week for dehydration and today treated for elevation issues and received oxygen before being taken to the hospital as a precaution. Saints spokesperson Greg Bensel said the Saints owner “ is just fine”. Benson turned 87 back on July 12th.
Two days, Two Standouts: Saints defensive tackle Akiem Hicks has had a really good camp, and especially in the last two days. “He’s been un-block able, a total handful for whoever has to block him. He’s so strong at the point of attack and such a powerful man. He’s a man-child!” said the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert. Hicks is super stout against the run, and an absolute nightmare when he gets into his bull rush power moves getting after the passer.
Akiem Hicks: just growing up in the game...having fun out there
Run D vs Run O: After getting gashed in the first few days of practice on defense in the “inside running" drill, the Saints defense has really flexed their muscle. It was tough moving Broderick Bunkley and the front four today for the offense. “The defense clearly established the line of scrimmage, and aside from one run, the defensive line dominated!” said Hebert.
Yo Vinnie: Saints safety Vinnie Sunseri hasn’t been flashy in training camp, just steady. He knows where to be and is rarely caught out of position. That’s not to say he hasn’t been beat on a play: “He’s got a real high football IQ, and that’s what makes it easier for him in the transition from college to the pros,” said defensive back coach Wesley McGriff. Sunseri also is a part of the four core special teams units and will have to make his mark there to land a job on the final 53 man roster. The coaches praise his toughness and intelligence. Sean Payton has said it countless times: “We want smart players, players that you can depend on and know where to be.” The former Alabama safety is competing at possibly the deepest position on the team behind obvious starters Jairus Byrd, Kenny Vaccaro, and Rafael Bush. New Orleans could end up keeping 6 at safety. Right now, the second tier of Safeties are Pierre Warren (Jacksonville State) and Marcus Ball (Memphis).
The Saints returned to the practice field today, without quarterback Drew Brees. Saints Coach Sean Payton says Brees is day to day with an abdominal injury. "We will make sure it can't get aggravated again. It's the type of injury that if you force it, you can reaggravate it," Payton said. Brees spent most of the practice as a spectator in this afternoon's workout, and did some conditioning work on the side with the rest of injured players. I wouldn't expect Brees to play this Friday night in St. Louis when the Saints open the preseason against the Rams. The Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert says the Saints are doing the right thing holding Brees out. "It's your core, and anytime you have a core muscle injury, it's not smart to push that. We don't want this nagging Brees all season long. Drew could play in one preseason game and be fine for the season," Bobby explained. The silver lining in the Brees injury is that it gives the coaching staff a great opportunity to evaluate the backup QBs with Ryan Griffin and Luke McCown fighting for that spot. (More on that later).
Champ is back:
Well kind of. For the first time in a few days we finally saw veteran defensive back Champ Baily on the stationary bike. Bailey wasn't in pads, and Payton didn't elaborate on his status any further. Wide receiver Kenny Stills is also working his way back onto the field. Stills started practice in pads and did the walk through portion, then he did some side conditioning but did not participate in team drills. Linebacker Victor Butler (undisclosed injury) and fullback Erik Lorig (undisclosed injury) were both no goes in practice.
I think this was the first practice that rookie wide receiver Brandin Cooks didn't get a mention, and might have had just an ordinary practice. About an hour into practice I didn't send one tweet about a particular play that he made. He didn't have a bad practice, we're just used to seeing him mesmerize. Today he didn't do anything in particular that stood out.
RG4 vs McCown:
As I mentioned earlier, with Brees out (Oblique) backups Ryan Griffin and Luke McCown have received the bulk of the work with the first team unit. Griffin has looked particularly sharp, and he knows where to go with the football. "That's half the battle of playing quarterback in the NFL. Griffing has been impressive. He knows where to throw the ball, and he's getting it there with good zip and accuracy," explained Bobby Hebert. I wrote about this a few days ago, and I still believe Griffin has the edge over McCown as the backup. Barring a horrible preseason showing, he should win the job. The Saints value the extra roster spot that would be vacated by the third QB.
Cooks: The obvious pick for player of the game was rookie wide out Brandin Cooks. He dazzled with his speed and was clearly a focal point of the offense. Cooks has been the buzz of camp, and every day makes a play that makes you raise your eyebrows. I can’t wait to see what he does for this offense, just in the deep passing game, getting him the ball in space, and what he’ll do for the other weapons in the offense. Offensive lineman Zach Strief said Cooks “carries himself like an 8 year veteran, it doesn’t seem to big for him, and he just comes to work every day”.
Cooks getting behind Prob for a big gainer. #SaintsCamp gonna see it a lot this year
No Brees in West Virgina: Saints QB Drew Brees was held out of the "Black and Gold Scrimmage" today in training camp as a precautionary measure. Coach Sean Payton explained “He has a slight strain of the left oblique muscle, and just decided to let him rest.” Luke McCown and Ryan Griffin worked with the first team with Brees absent. To be honest, it makes sense to not play Brees in this scrimmage even if he were healthy. The Saints are off tomorrow and back to work on Monday afternoon, the extra day of rest may allow him to recover and get back on the field quicker.
Griffin vs McCown: The backup QB spot is really shaping up to be an interesting battle between 2nd year man Ryan Griffin and veteran Luke McCown. Griffin has the edge in camp and played well in the scrimmage, hitting his first 8 passes and connecting with Brandin Cooks on a deep ball for a score. McCown wasn’t spectacular, but wasn’t terrible either. McCown led the first team offense to a score on the opening drive of the scrimmage and looked sharp when working with the 1st team unit.
Ball-in with Marcus: Safety Marcus Ball had the defensive play of the day, with a nice pick off QB Luke McCown. Ball returned the INT 40 plus yards before being run out of bounds. Ball was signed this off-season from the CFL and figures to be a core special teams player. “He’s got good football instincts, the ball just finds him” explained Coach Payton.
Galette: Outside linebacker Junior Galette was credited with two sacks in the scrimmage, and one of them cam off the left side matched against Terron Armstead. “I would have like to have had more, but I got two!” Galette joked. Don’t read anything into Galette beating Armstead, it was hard to tell if he was supposed to block him, or get some help, or not. Galette is definitely out to prove last year’s sack total of 12 was not a one year wonder.
No Injury Discussion: Veteran defensive back Champ Bailey missed yesterday’s walk through and today’s padded practice. Coach Sean Payton didn't want to talk about Bailey's status following practice when asked: “We don’t talk about injuries during training camp, next question?” Payton said. What I find curious is Payton wasn't actually asked if Bailey was injured, but he responded with that answer. In the past Payton has excused players during camp for “personal reasons” and has been willing to inform the media of those facts. Stay tuned on Bailey, I’m sure Payton will be asked again!
#Saints Coach Sean Payton "we don't discuss injuries during training camp". When asked about Champ Bailey absence from practice.
Intensity Up: For the second consecutive day, you could see the intensity ramped up a bit during practice. Offensive lineman Zach Strief and defensive lineman Tyrunn Walker got into a fight with some sharp jabs being thrown before quickly being broken up. A couple more shoving matches ensued throughout practice, but nothing major.
Defensive Day: The offensive performance wasn't as spectacular as it had been for the first few days of camp. In fact, today was probably their worst outing. The defense had a jump on a lot of passes, and in the running game, the backs couldn’t find much room to work with.
Flanders Opens Some Eyes: Un-drafted rookie free agent running back Timothy Flanders has been impressive at times, but he’s buried on the depth chart and is an extreme long shot to make the final roster. Flanders has good elusiveness, and really solid vision. The Saints will likely keep four running backs (Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram, Travaris Cadet, and Khiry Robinson). Flanders will have to really make his mark on special teams, and at best is headed for the practice squad.
Punches thrown Zach Strief and Tyrunn Walker #SaintsCamp
Kicking Into It: The kicking position battle isn't the most attractive battle in camp, but still worth keeping an eye on. Shayne Graham is the incumbent with the stronger leg and more experience. Derek Dimke is used to being competition with Graham; last season when the Saints cut Garret Hartley, the two kickers they tried out were Graham and Dimke. Graham ended up signing with New Orleans, but the Saints thought enough of Dimke to invite him to camp. Graham had his first miss of training camp today on a 44-yarder that missed wide left. Dimke drilled all three of his kicks, but Graham still has the edge in this position battle.
Scrimmage: Tomorrow the Saints will hold the "Black and Gold Scrimmage," and while it’s not a full go, all-out football game it’s still fun to watch. I’ll keep an eye on how the secondary is holding up against the passing attack of Drew Brees, and just how much pressure can the Saints defense generate on Brees and company. The scrimmage is usually pretty controlled, and each group will likely get one drive starting from the 20-yard line.
Saints offensive tackle Terron Armstead can attest to baptism by fire. Last year, he was thrown into the flames as the team’s starting left tackle in the middle of a play-off run in a huge game against the Carolina Panthers. Replacing Charles Brown, Armstead struggled in the first half of that game, giving up three sacks.
Entering his first full season as the starter, Armstead says it’s a night and day difference in comfort level: “Well, they say the game slows down. It’s just knowing the plays. Hearing the terminology from Drew (Brees) – my first snap I could’ve sworn he was speaking Chinese or Spanish or something. Just letting it slow down, having veterans like Zach Strief, Jahri Evans just being with you and helping you break down film and those type of things, it’s getting easy,” Armstead explained.
He’s not just big left tackle, he’s extremely athletic. The Saints might have struck gold again in the third round in 2013. New Orleans had Armstead penciled in to start this season, and be the tackle of the future. It just so happens the future came a little earlier. One Saints executive described his athleticism to me this way: “He could play tight end, seriously. He could go run down the field and catch passes and probably turn into a Pro Bowler”. Wow!
Fortunately the Saints have a pretty good tight end in Jimmy Graham. In the meantime, Armstead will just run down field and throw a devastating block for a running back or receiver. Armstead says he’s working to perfect his craft as a run blocker and pass protector: “I feel like I’m a more natural run-blocker. I’m picking up the technique in pass blocking more, everything is coming together nicely.”
Armstead also spent some time with one of the all-time greats and Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Willie Roaf this off-season. “It was a one day thing. I just had a few questions with him. I hung out with him before. I had a few questions like, ‘Where does he carry his hands? What’s he looking at?’ Those types of things, trying to pick his brain a little bit.”
It’s very early in camp, but the addition of Armstead to the Saints offensive line might just be the difference maker in 2014.
T-Bob and I caught a few minutes with Terron after practice, take a listen: