Likes: I liked Willie Snead's performance with 4 catches and 56 yards. Snead was clearly a featured player, as coaches were trying to get a proper evaluation on him. I also, really liked the Saints return game spearheaded by running back Marcus Murphy. He was electric this week, providing some exciting moments in the return game. He had a long punt return that was negated by penalty, but you can see he’s got some explosive ability in the return game. “He’s making this team. He’s making this team,” Sean Payton said after the game. Murphy also showed off his ability to run the ball as well with 8 attempts for 43 yards for 5.4 yard average running with power between the tackles.
Dislikes: Penalties! The Saints have racked up double digit penalties in two of three preseason games so far. New Orleans had 11 flags for 148 yards against Houston. The week before in the win over New England the penalties were cut to 8, but in the opener against Baltimore the Saints were tapped for 16.
The Saints only tallied one sack, and that’s the total for the preseason for the Black and Gold. It looks like they’re going to have problems in that part of the game. Sean Payton joked, “We can have a second line,” after getting one sack against the Texans.
I also didn’t like the Saints red-zone efficiency against Houston. The Saints were 0 for 3 in red-zone attempts. With that said, the first team offense had only 1 attempt and came up with just three points, but it’s a concern that Bobby Hebert highlighted: “Without Jimmy Graham, it makes me wonder if they are going to struggle their in the regular season. They don’t have that automatic go-to player down there anymore”.
Here are a couple of random thoughts that entered my mind during the game.
Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he wouldn’t need the preseason to get ready for the games that count. When he first said it, I was thinking he reached a bit, but after watching how the Saints handled the preseason this year, I changed my stance. Maybe the teams don’t need preseason football, judging by the teams cautious approach with starters this year. Drew Brees and most of the frontline players played about a series in the third game of the exhibition schedule against Houston.
Since several NFL teams hold joint practices during training camp, with two or three days of work with another team, the preseason has been devalued even more. College football teams don’t have the preseason, so I’m wondering if NFL teams even need it. Veteran players secretly hate the preseason. I mean guys that are already on the team know that it’s unnecessary risk for senseless injury. Players that are on the bubble certainly need the preseason.
Also, look at the attendance. I’m glad fans are getting wise and are not getting sucked in for full price in nothing more than a practice game. It’s just sloppy. It’s a poor product and the league would be wise to consider making the move away from preseason games. The problem is, owners of the league generate revenue they wouldn’t be willing to part with. I’m not so sure it’s that simple, the owners would want a guarantee to replace that cash lost from no preseason games.
The Saints are clearly game planning for the third preseason game, running scout offense and defensive plays. Coach Sean Payton said that Drew Brees would play against the Texans, but wasn’t specific on the amount of snaps. I would expect to see Drew for about a quarter, maybe a series into the second quarter. Luke McCown will follow Brees at QB, yielding to Ryan Griffin and Garret Grayson in the second half.
Browner & Humber:
Saints defensive back Brandon Browner and linebacker Ramon Humber look like they are quickly on the mend from their respective injuries. Browner and Humber did not practice Friday, but worked off to the side with trainers. Both were moving well. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Browner held out of the rest of the preseason, but looks like he should be good to go for week one against Arizona. Humber was working out on the side wearing shorts, shoulder pads and his helmet.
The Saints have to trim their roster to 75 players by Tuesday afternoon and down to 53 by Sunday September 6th.
The Saints invaded the campus of Tulane University wrapping up the week and the final practice of training camp Friday. First, if you haven’t been in Yulman stadium, you should go check out a game. It’s a fantastic venue for college football. The Who Dat Nation showed up in force, filling up at least half of the stadium.
Offense: With Coach Sean Payton back at practice, the Saints offense looked like they had something to prove after two previous days dominated by the defense. Saints WR Brandin Cooks is primed for a huge year. He had several targets and receptions today. Deep balls, short routes, it didn’t matter; Cooks was electric today. Sean Payton mentioned he might get a couple of punt return opportunities in the preseason game against Houston this Sunday. Payton also added that Cooks might just call a fair catch, but he wants him to get some reps and track the ball in the dome.
Two minute drill: The Saints first team offense carved up the defense in two minute drills today with Drew Brees leading the team down the field for a touchdown. With the second and third team, QB Luke McCown hit rookie WR R.J Harris on a deep pass, beating double coverage for a touchdown. It wasn’t all bad for the Saints defense; Brian Dixon had a solid showing with a couple of pass break ups. Stanley Jean-Baptiste was victimized a few times in the passing game. However, CB Delvin Breaux continues to raise eyebrows, flat out dominating in one-on-one drills against wide receivers. If I seem like I’m getting repetitive with Breaux, it’s because I probably am. He’s just been that good.
Quote of the day: Sean Payton recalled the initial workout the team had with Breaux prior signing him back in January “His workout was one most impressive I’ve seen from a cornerback, we wanted to make sure he didn’t leave the building”. Breaux at the time was scheduled to work out with 8 other teams, but the Saints kept him in the building and in his own home town.
Injury notes: Saints defensive back Brandon Browner worked off to the side with trainers today during practice. Browner hasn’t practiced since injuring his knee in the preseason opener against the Baltimore Ravens, more than two weeks ago. I expect the Saints to take this one slow - there is no need to play him in the preseason, and for that matter it gives other younger players an opportunity to get more reps. I do expect Browner to be ready to return for week 1 against Arizona. Linebacker Ramon Humber also looked like he was closer to returning to action today wearing shoulder pads and his helmet working with the training staff on the opposite field during practice. One final note, safety Jairus Byrd remains on PUP.
President fly over: Air Force One flew over the Saints facility during practice today, before landing at New Orleans Armstrong International Airport. President Obama is in town for the 10 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina this Saturday.
Daddy Duty: Saints Coach Sean Payton was not at practice today because he was escorting his daughter to the first day of college at Pepperdine University. Payton has always placed a significant interest on family, and has excused players in the past for family matters, and it’s no different for him. Some might make a big deal out of this, and most shouldn’t. I tip my hat to Payton for recognizing the importance of the big day for his daughter. I know I feel guilty all the time for missing certain events going on in my children’s lives and wish that I would have taken more time off to share that moment with them. Payton missing one training camp practice will have no impact on the Saints winning or losing one single game this season. Don’t be silly and make a big deal out of this.
Sean Payton skipped practice today so he could bring his daughter to college. Was he right to do that? Bobby Hebert says old school coaches would have never done that. What do you think?
Defensive pressure: We’ve been wondering when the Saints pass rush was going to show up, and today it did. I counted at least three different sacks from players like DT Kevin Williams, DE Cameron Jordan, and DE/OLB Kasim Edebali. When the Saints weren’t getting sacks, the defensive line was constantly in the face of the quarterback, forcing them to pull the ball down and re-set their offensive reads. The secondary feasted off the pass rush, and were able to contest throws on WRs. The defensive has stacked together several solid days of practice here in the last week, and it has increased my level of optimism about what could be with the defense.
Play of the day: I just finished telling you about how good the defense looked, but the offense had their moments as well. Drew Brees found WR Joe Morgan streaking down the sideline past CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste for a long touchdown pass. Brees dropped the ball in perfectly to Morgan, and he turned on the jets, racing to the end zone.
Veteran spotlight: Safety Kenny Phillips has been relegated to the second and third team defense. Phillips had been working with the first team with Jairus Byrd sidelined on the PUP. Phillips is trying to make a comeback in the NFL after three seasons away from the game due to a career-threatening knee injury. Phillips can still play in the league, but Pierre Warren can play special teams and that might make the difference in the final roster spot in New Orleans.
Rookie Spotlight: Rookie offensive lineman Sean Hickey is a bit of a long shot to make the final roster for the Saints, but I think has a shot to land on the practice squad. Hickey played right tackle in college, and has been moved to right guard in camp with the Saints. Hickey could develop into a starter down the line for the Saints. “He’s been strong at run blocking during camp. He needs to get stronger in his pass protection sets,” explained the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert.
Quote of the day: “I think he’s going to be a super star in this league,” said Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro talking about CB Delvin Breaux. Breaux is going to be a big time player in this defense and Saints color analyst Hokie Gajan thinks he might be the best cornerback on the team. “He might not play ahead of Keenan Lewis, or Brandon Browner but he’s got the best cover skills in that secondary.” Breaux is lauded by his teammates for his work ethic, and physical play at the line of scrimmage in bump and run coverage.
Contested throws: The Saints defense clearly got the better of the offense today in team drills and even one-on-one drills. DB Keenan Lewis made his return to the practice field today and got right down to business with two pass break ups in team drills. Delvin Breaux continues to be a menace in pass coverage. “That’s a guy you don’t want him to get his hands on you, he’s so strong,” said WR Joe Morgan after practice. Brian Dixon had his best practice with a couple of contested throws in team and individual drills. Kyle Wilson is also making a late surge to make the roster, with a solid practice as well.
Browner progress: Saints defensive back Brandon Browner was dressed out for practice today in shorts and a helmet and did some light jogging with trainers on the side. Browner has been out since taking a helmet to the knee in the preseason opener against the Ravens. I wouldn’t expect to see Browner return to a full practice mode for several more days. Safety Kenny Vaccaro also returned to the practice field today and participated fully.
Rookie Spotlight: Defensive Lineman Tavaris Barnes looks like he’s working his way into the defensive line rotation ahead of rookie Bobby Richardson, and Kaleb Euells. Barnes has been disruptive on passing downs and against the run. Barnes will continue to get a majority of the first team reps in the next two preseason games in his attempt to make the roster.
Veteran Spotlight: DT Kevin Williams still looks like the same player that was very productive with the Minnesota Vikings and with the Seahawks last season. At 35, with thirteen years in the league the Saints will be carefull with the amount of snaps he takes during the preseason and in practice but Williams looks like he can be a really productive player for the team in the middle this season. Williams was brought over in the off-season as an unrestricted free agent.
Quote of the day: “There is still very much undecided about this roster,” Saints Coach Sean Payton explained today when asked about looming roster cuts on Tuesday and the following week. Payton is being completely candid in his response. I can rattle off a few questions that remain un-answered at this point. Who’s going to be the 4th & 5th WR’s on this team? Who’s going to be the dime CB? Who’s going to start in the middle at linebacker for the Saints aside from Stephone Anthony? Who’s going to be the primary return guy? Stay tuned the picture will slowly start to come into focus over the next few weeks.
The Saints will release TE Michael Egnew today, according to a league source. Egnew has been with the team for just seven days.
I expect the team to continue to work out several veteran players at tight end. The Saints' current third tight end, Orson Charles, is suspended by the league for week one against Arizona.
Taking his place on the roster will be Chris Manhertz, according to the league's transaction wire. He's a former basketball player from Canisius College, signed by the Buffallo Bills last year and released last week.
Manhertz is making the transition from basketball, and had never played football until the Bills came calling. Now the Saints are kicking the tires!
Not yet: Saints coach Sean Payton has often said “there is no light at the end of the tunnel” when referring to training camp, and keeping the team in that frame of mind during the preseason. The Saints returned to the practice field less than 24 hours after their second preseason game today in Metairie. “It’s still training camp, that’s the mindset we have right now,” reiterated offensive tackle Zach Strief. I’ve covered the Saints for going on seven seasons and I don’t recall them ever practicing the day after a game, regular season or preseason. I fully expected a bit of a review from the day before but, that wasn’t the case either. The Saints were in shorts & helmets, but were working at full speed and a lot of team periods (offense vs defense).
Getting Healthier: The Black and Gold appear to be getting some players back who’ve been sidelined with various ailments. WR Nick Toon was the only casualty from the match up with New England (more on him in a moment). CBs Keenan Lewis and Delvin Breaux both took team reps today. Lewis has been sidelined for a few days with an undisclosed injury, and Breaux fell awkwardly in the preseason opener against the Ravens and hasn’t practiced since. In his first day back, he didn’t show any signs of rust breaking up two passes intended for Marques Colston. I wouldn’t be surprised if Breaux ends up leading this team in pass break ups this season, and interceptions. He’s going to be a really good player. Safety Kenny Vaccaro was dressed out but didn’t participate in practice today, but another positive sign he’s on the mend.
Notable absences: At this point, Jairus Byrd is still the top name on the list of players that haven’t practiced, but trust me you won’t miss out when he returns. Twitter, Facebook, and any other social media site will blow up when Byrd finally gets on the field this season. OLB Anthony Spencer has also missed considerable time here recently and did not practice today. CB Brandon Browner and LB Dannell Ellerbe were also nowhere to be found at practice. Rookie CB PJ Williams is falling behind with every rep, as he’s only practiced just a handful of times during camp. Damian Swann is by far ahead of him on the depth chart at this point.
Nick Toon: Ah yes, one of my favorite players to talk about. WR Nick Toon suffered an injury in the match up with New England, and as I reported during the game, the training staff was looking at his left ankle. Toon had a golden opportunity to make this roster and contribute a lot this season, but has been leapfrogged by Brandon Coleman, Josh Morgan and Joe Morgan. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Toon is released on or before the final roster pairing at the end of the preseason. Toon came to the Saints in 2012 as a fourth round draft pick out of Wisconsin, but hasn’t lived up to what many thought could be a great fit in New Orleans.
Quote of the Day: “I am an every down running back,” Saints running back Mark Ingram said following practice after a strong game running and receiving for the Saints against the Patriots. Ingram has turned into a solid threat out of the backfield in his fifth season, and early in his career it was something he wasn’t asked to do a lot. This season, I think you’ll see more of that from Ingram. “I’ve got five years now with Drew Brees, so he’s so much more comfortable with me now,” Ingram explained.
Saints & Patriots: The defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots worked out against the transitioning Saints today at the Greenbrier. You could feel the intensity dialed up with the players and coaches. The speed of practice was much faster, the increased pressure and tempo was obvious. It was about as “game like” atmosphere as you can get at this point in camp. “That’s the best practice I’ve seen so far this camp. You gotta like what you see out there. There was six drills going on at one time, it kept you on your toes!” said Saints Color analyst Hokie Gajan.
Standouts: The Saints were without their entire starting defensive backfield working against the Patriots. CBs Brandon Browner, Delvin Breaux and Keenan Lewis and safety Kenny Vaccaro were held out of this morning’s practice against New England. “Tom Brady and the other Patriots quarterbacks were holding the ball because our coverage was good in the secondary,” explained the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert. Stanley Jean-Baptiste is vastly improved over last season, along with CB Brian Dixon making a couple of plays today. Another standout player from today was WR Josh Morgan. He had two receiving touchdowns from Drew Brees today. He’s a great athlete that put in the right situation can be really good for this team. It’s hard to get a read as to how the final roster will shake out at wide receiver but right now it looks like this: Brandin Cooks, Marques Colston, Brandon Coleman, Joe Morgan, Josh Morgan, and Seantavious Jones. Joe Morgan has a distinct advantage over the other candidates - he is an excellent blocker in the running game.
No fights: We’ve seen several joint practices around the league turn into WWE style cage matches over the last week. None of that even came close to happening today with the Saints and Patriots. Each team emphasized it to the players prior to today “They know how to practice, they know how to get something accomplished, they’re not soft; they’re smart,” said Hebert.
Rookie spotlight: Saints rookie OLB Hau’oli Kikaha returned to practice today after missing yesterday. He and Akiem Hicks were the two that had the biggest impact getting after Patriots QB Tom Brady. Kikaha is still learning, but you can see the non-stop motor and intensity he plays with. He’s still learning to get into his drops in pass coverage but he has a lethal first step in the pass rushing department.
Veteran spotlight: Left tackle Terron Armstead was putting on a clinic today in 1 on 1 pass rush against the Patriots defenders, twice handling OLB Rob Ninkovich, who had hight praise for Armstead. “Very good tackle. He’s got really quick feet and he’s tough to match up against!” Patriots DE Chandler Jones did get the better of Armstead on one rep, but it wouldn’t have been a sack on the quarterback.