By this time next year, the Zephyrs baseball team will have a new name. The franchise is rebranding the minor league baseball team in order to be "more New Orleans."
The ballclub's current nickname actually comes from a famous Denver passenger train, not "The Zephyr" rollercoaster that used to reside at Pontchartrain Beach.
The team asked fans for help and received over 2,000 suggestions that have now been whittled down to 7 finalists. Once again the team has turned to the fans to make a final decision. Hold onto your hats, here are your choices. ...and now batting for your New Orleans
Could these really be the best suggestions out of the 2,000 that were submitted? YIKES! What do you think? I don't like ANY of them, but am ready to have some fun with it. My vote is going for what I think is the absolute worst choice....the Baby Cakes. Isn't that a term of affection for your significant other? "Hey baby cakes, I missed you."
Voting began today. The poll closes on July 8th, and the winner wont be announced until later in the year. Maybe that will be enough time to rethink things and just to keep the name Zephyrs.
The potential Simmons has is just too great for Philly to pass up on. He is 19 years old and can score, rebound and bring the ball up-court like a point guard. Very similar to what Pelicans stud Anthony Davis brings to the table.
I personally am not sold on Simmons in the pros, but you can say that about every prospect. His season at LSU just bothers me too much. Forget the knock on a lack of an outside shot, I just got a bad vibe about his attitude while he was in Baton Rouge and felt it showed often on the court. Maybe it was an issue with Tigers' coach Johnny Jones, but Simmons' body language and the way he carried himself makes me think he isn't ready for the bright lights of the Association.
The Saints ended practice early today, as the team wrapped up their third and final day of mini-camp. Linebacker Stephone Anthony was not in attendance and Jairus Byrd, Dannell Ellerbe, Kyle Wilson, Kasim Edebali, Jamarca Sanford and Thomas Morstead did not take part in team drills. Robert Meachem was back at practice and wearing his old #17 again. Kyle Prater now has #12. While Meachem was present, he did not take part in the practice due to a foot issue.
Last year at training camp, it was evident that tight end Ben Watson was going to have a large role in the 2015 offense, since he seemed to catch at least one touchdown every practice. A love affair could be budding with Josh Hill. He ran a great route where he faked outside, then went in and caught a TD from Luke McCown. I'm interested to see if Hill is more interested in the offense this year. The Saints clearly love him, or they would not have matched the Chicago Bears offer to keep him in New Orleans.
Both kickers, Kai Forbath and Connor Barth, continue to struggle. They missed a number of kicks throughout this offseason, but Coach Payton said he likes the duo, explaining that an issue with the field made for poor kicking conditions. Payton added he believes that one of these two will be the team's place kicker, quelling any thought the team would bring in another player.
The Who Dat Nation suffered a panic attack upon hearing the news that last year's 2nd round draft pick Hau'Oli Kikaha suffered an ACL injury during OTAs, and will likely miss the entire 2016 season. He was supposed to play a vital role in re-energizing a pass rush that allowed just about every opposing QB in 2015 to look like a Hall of Famer.
After getting over the initial sting of losing a player, thoughts turn to who ca help fill the void, and the the answer might also be from Kikaha's draft class. Davis Tull was selected by the Saints in round 5 a year ago and missed the entire 2015 season because of a torn labrum. He had a really good day at mini-camp on Wednesday, where he would have had a few sacks, giving hope that maybe he could be at least be a part of the solution to the Black & Gold's pass rushing woes.
"I said something to him, I thought he had two really good get-offs," said head coach Sean Payton. "He's obviously quick, he's healthy, he's doing well. His weight is right around 250 so I'm sure he's anxious for us to get the pads on and for him to receive some good work."
Training camp will kick-off at the end of next month so we will have a clearer picture soon. Expect Kasim Edebali and Obum Gwacham for playing time at defensive end.
Last season, cornerback Delvin Breaux was one of the few bright spots on the Saints defense. His transition to the NFL from the Canadian Football League seemed effortless. This year he did some recruiting for the Black & Gold, helping the team discover safety Erik Thomas, who also played ball in the CFL.
"I played with him for 2 years in Canada, that's my guy," says Beaux. "I went and talked to Sean Payton and was like, 'Coach, we need to get him down here.' Harris was in his contract year up there and he called me to say no teams were looking at him. I said 'WHAT!?' I went right up to Coach Payton and said look at this guy, I think he's going to be a gem for us."
Harris has definitely caused the media to take notice at the handful of practices we've seen this offseason. First off, you can't miss him because of his size. He stands 6-ft-3, 220 pounds and has also played the linebacker position.
Has Harris' adjustment to the American game of football been as seamless as Breaux's?
"It's been good. With football, everything is kind of similar," answered Harris. "It's just learning a new terminology, almost like learning a new language. It's not too hard to pick up on. I feel like I have pretty good football knowledge, but just repetition; that's all it is."
Meanwhile, Harris' new Black & Gold teammates seem to agree with Breaux's initial assessment. "Stud," replied safety Kenny Vaccaro when asked about Harris. "He's been playing good every practice. He's competing. He's making plays. He has a lot of range. He's smart. I can't say enough good things about him."
Saints sideline reporter Kristian Garic has found out a little more about Saints DE/OLB Hau'Oli Kikaha tearing his ACL. The injury happened "during a regular OTA drill, nothing special." This is the 3rd time Kikaha had to endure an ACL tear after having two in college.
He was drafted in the 2nd round last year and was being given an opportunity to showcase his pass rush skills at defensive end to help out Pro Bowler Cam Jordan. In 2015, Kikaha recorded 52 tackles, 4 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in 15 games.
What does this mean for the Saints defense?
"Let's not forget this is a team that already is devoid of a complimentary dominant pass rusher," says Garic. "Kikaha was solid last season before he was plagued by an ankle injury leading the league in forced fumbles as a rookie before the injury. This is a significant loss for the Saints D that is searching for an identity."
The Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert was also expecting big thing from Kikaha and chimed in on how thinks this effects the Black and Gold.
"A big blow, I'd have to say," Hebert said sullenly. I think the Saints were definitely counting on him to be that initial starter in obvious pass rushing situations coming off the edge opposite Cam Jordan. I think utilizing him at defensive end would have been a big boost for his career going forward. But, having 3 knee surgeries on the same knee now, I don't know what the future holds for him."
We are 100 days away from the Saints season opener against Oakland in the Superdome and NFL analysts haven't been too kind in their prognostications for the Black & Gold.
The one that really hurt was Pro Football Focus's recent prediction. PFF has become one of the go-to websites in football for in-depth analysis of the NFL and NCAA. Well, they just put out their NFC projections for 2016 and have the Saints achieving a 5-11 record. Writer Nathan Jahnke is banking on a Drew Brees decline, along with the easy target of mentioning how bad the defense was the last 2 seasons.
Now I know New Orleans has a tough schedule this year, but I just can't wrap my head around them only having 5 wins. To me the team was not as bad as their 7-9 record showed last year despite a crappy defense. I can easily point to 3 games that could have gone the other way and suddenly the team is 10-6. I know…woulda, coulda, shoulda. My point is that I don't believe this team is as far away from being a contender as some of the national media might believe. Have I become a "homer?"
First off, PFF, that Brees decline 'aint happening this year unless something dramatic happens. The media has been able to view 2 of the 6 organized team activity practices, and in both the 37 year old has been sharp, looking like he is already in game shape and ready for September 11th.
Linebacker James Laurinaitis had a great quote after the defense got abused by Brees in Thursday's practice. "We still have to find a way to get some interceptions. I think we are o-fer on Drew. He dropped some dimes in there today. We've got to find a way to get some."
I think it's safe to say we can pencil in the Saints offense as being a top 5 unit this year, since the lowest they've even been in the Brees/Payton era was 6th in 2010. The Saints are going to score; they just have to find a way to stop the other team.
Watching the defense play last year was painful for everyone. I believe the dysfunction of having Rob Ryan as the defensive coordinator and also Dennis Allen as senior defensive assistant was a huge problem. It was the worst kept secret that Allen was eventually going to become the DC. When things are wrong within the coaching room, that negative energy finds a way to seep itself into the locker room. There were a bazillion times where the defense either looked disinterested or lost in games. But, I do see hope as there was some improvement when Allen took over. The Saints defense gave up on average 26.8 ppg when Allen was running the show compared to 31.5 ppg under Ryan. Just sayin'.
Another reason to believe in the D is that a number of rookies were leaned on to be contributors last year and now as tough as the season might have been, they have a year of NFL experience under their belt. Delvin Breaux, Stephone Anthony, Hau'Oli Kikaha, Bobby Richardson, Damian Swann and Tyeler Davison all saw a good amount of playing time in year 1 and hopefully have a sophomore surge not slump. OH YEAH! Penalty flags will go down vastly, too, since the team let Brandon Browner hit the bricks. A record breaking 21 flags were thrown on him in 2016. Didn't it seem like almost everyone would come on a 3rd and long to?
Listen, I'm not saying this team is going to rise from the ashes like a Phoenix to wreck havoc on the entire league in 2016, but I feel like the national guys are painting this picture of doom and gloom and I just don't get that feeling being around the ballclub so far. It's still way too early and I can't give a season prediction yet, but 5-11? Not buying it one bit.
The Saints will go through week #3 of OTAs starting Tuesday next week. Then from June 14-16th is when mini-camp kicks off and those sessions are open to the public. Come check out the Black and Gold for yourself. Practice is from 11am-1:20pm at the team facility on Airline Drive in Metairie.
The Saints look to have finally pinpointed the right guy to be the leader on the defense. It's been hard to find a Jonathan Vilma / Scott Fujita replacement. I still cannot comprehend how Junior Galette or Brandon Browner were voted team captains, but there is no question as to why James Laurinatis is the voice and the heart that this team needs.
As a media member in the locker room you don't get moved hearing a player speak (expect if it's Ben Watson), but we finally got to talk face-to-face with Laurinatis and it was easy to see why the Saints coveted him so. I wanted to be a part of what he was selling.
He says that the transition coming from a Gregg William Rams defense to what Saints D-coordinator Dennis Allen is running hasn't been an issue.
"I feel really comfortable, it helps that the scheme is very similar to what I've been in the last few years," said the 8 year vet. "But as far as the players, the locker room; very receptive. We have a lot of guys here who are hungry to be good."
That hunger he speaks off was apparently lacking in St. Louis. Maybe that is the reason the fans didn't support the team enough and they ended up moving to Los Angeles.
"It's refreshing to me to being in a place where they've won," said Laurinaitis. "The expectations are to get back to that. You hear 7-9 is just not acceptable; it's awesome to be around that hunger. And heck, you get to practice against one of the best offenses in the league every day, so it naturally makes you better."
The new quarterback of the defense also has enjoys getting challenged by a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback on offense each practice. I can't wait to see what things are going to be like on the field come training camp when the pads are popping.
"Its super fast compared to anything I've been around in practice," said Laurintis about the Saints offense. "Just the way that they come out of the huddle, go down to the line of scrimmage it puts stress on the mike linebacker. If you make one bad call, there's no making up for it. Which is a good thing; it means everyone's communication needs to be on point. Everyone has to be a quick thinker and solve problems fast."
Drew Brees has definitely been impressed with what James Laurinaitis adds to the team. Brees likes to say that iron sharpens iron so we could be in store for one honed in Black & Gold ballclub in 2016.
"Very tough, smart, leadership, ability to adjust on the fly, Brees gushed about Laurinaitis. "You just feel like he's in command, he's in control of what's happening defensively and it's you check, I check, I'm getting guys lined up in the right position. You can tell just anticipation like I've seen this on tape before. Here I go.' There's just a level of intelligence there that is really key at that position."
It’s no surprise that Rob Ryan has opened his mouth, the only real shocker is that it took this long. He told the MMQB that the last two years in New Orleans, those weren’t his defenses. He was apparently forced to buy into a Seattle-type concept.
I think we all saw the writing on the wall for Rob when the team hired Dennis Allen and created a position for him. I still don’t understand; why not just fire Ryan when you knew you were going to do it at some point anyway? But, for Rob to say those weren’t his defenses the past two seasons is pretty crazy. Let’s take a look at good ole Rob’s track record to see what his defenses have done over the years.
To me, you can check out every defensive stat you want but the one that matters most is points given up per game.
Overall I’ll say Ryan is far from great. When you hear complaints about Brees throwing the ball so much, now you know why. What is the offense supposed to do when they have to score 30 points a game every week?
From what I’ve heard from some players, the biggest issue seems to be that Ryan’s scheme was way too complex. They couldn’t even get enough men on the field on numerous occasions which made Sean Payton almost transform into The Incredible Hulk on numerous occasions.
Dennis Allens is apparently taking the KISS principle into effect and cornerback Delvin Breux says its made guys so much more at ease.
“It’s simple, It’s simple,” Breaux smiled when asked how Allen’s scheme differs. “We’re going to play this, this or that; and that’s it. He wants us to master it.”
Besides having a happy bunch of players the other best thing going on in Dennis Allen’s favor this year is he can’t do any worse.
The Saints next off season workouts are next week - with open access to the media Thursday. Who Dat Nation, be the first to know the latest on the Black & Gold. Get WWL Saints alerts directly to your phone. Click here