Everyone has an opinion. Over the course of the last three days here is what I think about the 2013 New Orleans Saints Minicamp.
A. Rob Ryan is making a difference – From the little time I've been around Coach Ryan I can tell you he is a guy that everyone would like to play for. He's a straight shooter, and the man has defense running in his veins. You can tell there will be an emphasis on getting to the QB this season. I know that there has not been a single practice in full gear yet, but I am optimistic that the 2013 Saints defense will not resemble the 2012 defensive squad.
B. Things are more serious with Sean back! – You remember when you were in high school and your regular teacher was out? Remember when a substitute teacher was in your class? It just did not have the same feeling did it? I'm in no way, shape, or form disrespecting anyone. But it seems to me everything is taken in a more serious light when Coach Payton is on the field. I don't think that things are different or that Coach Payton is a different dude, I just think when the head man in charge is on the job things are more in order. Just my opinion.
C. Unknown eye-catchers – Four of the lesser-known players that caught my attention during Saints Minicamp included RB Khiry Robinson, WR Saalim Hakim DE Kenyon Coleman and CB Rod Sweeting. I have no idea if these guys will make the team. And, Coach Payton always says you have to be careful when evaluating without pads on, but these guys have made plays. Sweeting is an aggressive guy that stood on several plays in the secondary. Hakim just catches the ball and runs precise routes. Coach Rob Ryan thinks that Kenyon Coleman will flourish in his 3-4 scheme in helping stop the run. And Robinson is a quick, shifty back that ended minicamp on a high note.
D. Is it Ingram time yet? Let's be real here. When the team is not in full gear it's hard to get a gauge on the running game. With that said, Saints fans have been waiting to see the Mark Ingram that was one of the best running backs in the country coming out of college. Is 2013 the year Ingram becomes a consistent contributor? Here is what Coach Payton said when asked about Ingram at practice this week: "Number one, I think he is healthy, he is moving around real well, he looks sudden and again this is all in shorts, but I'm excited to see him play this season. For a lot of players, it was disappointing last year, I think that obviously he will have an important role in what we do."
E. Catchy quotes – "Don't leave your lunch on the ground." Saints Secondary Coach Wesley McGriff. Coach McGriff's salty way of telling his DB's to catch the football when the opportunity arises.
"Kenyon Coleman is the best run defender in football as a 3-4 end. Trust me, the Who Dat Nation is going to love him." Saints Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan on new DE #99 Kenyon Coleman.
"They use to call me Grasshopper." Saints Wide Receiver Coach Henry Ellard when I asked him if he had any nicknames during his playing career.
"Not only schematically you have one of the best coaches, but you also have a guy who knows how to press the right buttons to get the best out of the players." Former NFL great and future Hall of Fame defensive back Aeneas Williams on Saints Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan.
F. From the mouths of the pros – I'm not a hater. I don't show boat and I don't brag. But when it comes to getting a professional opinion, you won't find a better place to get a complete breakdown of every snap, every practice and every game than the ones you get right here on WWL. Hokie Gajan has a way of explain things like no other and so does Bobby Hebert. Two guys who put on a Black and Gold Uniform want nothing more than to see the home team win and win big. But these cats tell it like it T-I is. I ask you. If you want a professional's take on something don't you ask a pro? Well, you can ask our pro's every day during Saints Camp. Can anyone else say that? It ain't bragging if you got it. We got'em!
Well folks that's all from minicamp 2013. We have one more OTA to tell you about how the Saints are doing, then a little break, and then the season is here at the end of July when training camp opens. So in short, the Saints offense is the Saints offense, the defense is making strides and now we are about a month away to the start of the season.
The New Orleans Saints wrapped up their three day minicamp today with a morning practice. If the Who Dat Nation is looking for good news about their defense, then the showing the defenders gave during these three days of practice has to be at the very least encouraging.
"I tell you I thought the defense got after the QB and the coverage at times was very good," said former Saints fullback and current Saints Color Analyst Hokie Gajan. Folks, I tell you that I am cautiously optimistic, but right now the Saints defense has made some solid strides this off season.
Bobby and I were able to speak with new Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan. "I love being here. You can tell the passion that the Who Dat Nation has about their team. I just want to be a little part of the success we have," said Ryan. Ryan and his new look 3-4 defense turned heads this week with nice coverage and pressure applied more often than not during the three day minicamp.
WR Andy Tanner had a big day with several grabs for the Saints offense, including beating DB Corey White for a 12-yard gain. And then Tanner slipped behind the Saints secondary for what would have been about a 50-yard TD reception. Tanner also had a couple of 15-yard grabs on back-to-back plays from QB Luke McCown.
"It gives me a lot of confidence," Tanner said after having his best outing during minicamp. "I thought I had a good day and when the ball came my way I was able to come down with the catch." Tanner is one of several wide receivers trying to land a spot on the Saints Roster.
The best run of the day came from rookie RB #29 Khiry Robinson. Robinson reeled off a ten-yard run in the team session during the Saints practice. The catch of the day came from WR #17 Chris Givens. Givens showed his skills, catching the football with a nice grab. However, Givens was unable to get both feet in bounds.
The defense really came up big at the end of practice. Safety #36 Jim Leonhard came up with an interception in the first two-minute drill. QB Drew Brees over threw TE Jimmy Graham with Leonhard coming down with a nice pickoff for the Saints defense.
The Black and Gold Defense came up with another pick later in practice. Defensive back Corey White tipped a pass from QB Luke McCown. The pass went up higher into the air and then linebacker Ramon Humber came down with an interception. This occurred when the Saints were working on their two minute offense.
"I think you can see the difference the new defense and the new defensive coaches are making right now. New Secondary Coach Wesley McGriff is making an impact. Right now you can see the difference a guy like Coach McGriff is making," said the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert.
Click the window below to view Bobby's full recap of today's practice:
They did not play their best baseball of the season. They did not have their full roster of players. And they at times did not look like the #1 ranked team in the nation. But none of that matters after the LSU Tigers won their regional with a clean sweep last weekend, heading now to a Super Regional matchup with Oklahoma.
Head Coach Paul Mainieri dropped in to talk with me and Bobby on Sports Talk, and said that only one thing matters at the end of the day.
"The object of the game is to score more runs that the other team. We did that. Now we get to move on and host s Super Regional here at the Box and we are excited about playing at home in front of our fans. We won and that is all that matters," Mainieri told us.
LSU will now battle the Sooners this weekend in Baton Rouge, with a berth in the 2013 College World Series on the line. You'll hear every game right here on WWL AM and FM.
Coach Mainieri says that two of the country's best pitchers are coming to town, including the possible #1 pick in this week's Major League Baseball Draft.
"I tell you they have outstanding pitching. The have two of the top pitchers in the nation. Jonathan Gray could be a top four pick in the draft. He can throw 100 miles per hour and he threw 138 pitches in their regional win," Mainieri said.
If anyone knows a thing or two about being a wide receiver, it's a former NFL wide receiver, right? Now entering his second season over the Saints wide receivers, Coach Henry Ellard is pleased with what he has seen thus far out of pass catchers.
"We've got a real good group. Obviously Marques (Colston) and Lance (Moore) are the veteran leaders and we have some very good young guys in this group too," Ellard told me and Bobby Hebert on Sports Talk.
Ellard played in the NFL for 17 seasons with the Los Angeles Rams, Washington Redskins and New England Patriots. He finished his outstanding career with 814 catches for 13,777 yards and 65 touchdowns. Once known as "Grasshopper" back in his playing days in college at Fresno State, now Coach Ellard is just trying to put together the best possible group of receivers that he can.
Coach Ellard was hired as the Saints wide receiver Coach in March of 2012, taking over for current Tulane Football Coach Curtis C.J. Johnson. During our conversation with Coach Ellard, Bobby asked the Coach which player in the NFL reminded him of the way he played the game.
"I'd have to say Gregg Jennings. His suddenness and what he does with the ball after the catch kind of reminds me of myself," Ellard said of the Minnesota Vikings star.
Ellard has his top two receivers returning again this season in Marques Colston and Lance Moore. Colston led the Saints last season with 83 receptions, 1,154 yards and 10 Td's while Lance Moore was not far behind with 65 grabs for 1,041 yards with six scores. Currently several players are in the mix to round out the remaining roster spots at the WR position.
Currently on the Saints Roster at Wide Receiver include #11 Jarred Fayson, #13 Joe Morgan, #14 Andy Tanner, #17 Chris Givens, #18 Saalim Hakim, rookie draft choice #84 Kenny Stills, #86 Brent Leonard, #87 Preston Parker and second year player #88 Nick Toon. You can also count #15 Courtney Roby into the mix. Roby has excelled as a special teams player with the Saints and Roby adds depth at the receiver position.
So how do some of the younger players make the Saints roster? "They have to be consistent in their play. Make plays when you are called up. And the players have to know our offense and they have to know what to do," Ellard said.
Coach Ellard said in his spare time he loves to spend time with his family and likes to visit the French Quarter.
The New Orleans Saints hit the practice field this morning at 10:15 to begin their annual mini-camp. The Saints went through an installation period at the start of practice and then the team began to stretch at 10:46. (My full recap follows, and scroll down to view the video of what The "Cajun Cannon" Bobby Hebert had to say about the practice!)
The Saints defensive players wore all black today while the offensive players were in white jerseys and black shorts. After stretching, the Saints broke off into individual groups. While the Cajun Cannon walked over to check on what the offense was doing, I focused on the defensive players.
One of the bigger moments at today's first practice came in the final team period on the far practice field. Wide receiver #11 Jarred Fayson hauled in a pass and then was roughed up by #38 DB Rod Sweeting. Fayson did not appreciate the way he was handled by Sweeting, prompting a little pushing between the two. Cooler heads prevailed and the team quickly got back to work.
Rookie CB Rod Sweeting was very active at practice this morning. "He's out there trying to make plays. And that is what you have to do in order to make the team," said Bobby Hebert. Sweeting had an interception, picking off QB Luke McCown.
New secondary Coach Wesley McGriff worked with his DB's right in front of me. Coach McGriff is a vocal coach that can be heard from just about anywhere on the practice field. "Don't put your lunch on the ground," McGriff said.
McGriff was explaining in his own way to his players to catch the football when a chance at an interception happens. "Right now all the guys are working hard. We are just trying to get better each day and I like our energy," McGriff told me and Bobby Hebert.
Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan was close by watching his fellow coach instruct his core of defensive backs. As the team came together on the far field in front of the fans, the first team session began. Saints running back Pierre Thomas would reel off a nice run to begin the team portion of practice.
QB Drew Brees connected with tight end Jimmy Graham for a nice gainer, then Mark Ingram ran the ball, followed by two more runs from RB's Darren Sproles and Tavaris Cadet. Back-up QB Seneca Wallace would complete a pass to TE Keavon Milton in the team period as well.
"The catch of the day was a fade stop play when Drew Brees connected with TE Jimmy Graham," said the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert. Graham made a beautiful one handed grab over DB Rafael Bush.
After that team period of practice, the Saints worked on special teams, headed up by Coach Greg McMahon.
DE Martez Wilson had an interception at the morning practice. "Wilson showed his athletic skills making that play. That was a very good head up play by Martez," Hebert said.
Click the window below to view the video of the Cajun Cannon's practice breakdown from the Saints morning mini-camp practice. Today, be sure and tune in at 4:00 p.m., as we broadcast live from Saints Camp on Airline to recap the first day of Minicamp practices.
The Who Dat Nation gets a glimpse of the 2013 New Orleans Saints this week as the team holds their annual mini-camp Tuesday through Thursday. In the two OTA sessions that the media was allowed to attend, the Saints defense looked to have the upper hand on the Black and Gold offense.
Fans are using severe caution with that news as it is mostly a wait and see approach on how much improvement the worst defense in the NFL from a year ago can make this off season. However, I can only call it like I see it, and so far the defense has confused the offense at times.
Former Saints fullback and current color analyst Hokie Gajan told me that he could see that there were more packages installed from the first OTA to the second one that we the media were able to attend over the last two weeks.
The progression of the Saints defense is obviously still a major thing to watch. After giving up an NFL single-season record 7,042 yards in 2012, many fans as well as analysts will not take any stock into an improved defense until is improvement on the field in the regular season.
One of the premier quarterbacks in the National Football League will have a new protector on his blind side. After starting Left Tackle Jermon Bushrod left for Chicago, the Saints are going to have to find his replacement over the next three months.
The three players that are in a battle for the job include Charles Brown, Jason Smith and Rookie Terron Armstead. Drew Brees was asked last week about the possibility of having a rookie protect his blind side this season.
"It wouldn't be the first time. If he earns the job, he earns the right to be there and I'll have all the confidence in the world in him," Brees said. "We're only two weeks in, but he's been impressive thus far. Like I said, it's not only you're learning the scheme, but you're learning new technique and you have a new coach. It's the speed of the game and the speed at which we operate offensively. There is a lot to take on in a short amount of time. He doesn't seem overwhelmed which is a good thing."
Several new faces will be in a heated battle to see who emerges as go-to receivers for Drew Brees. Yes, we know that veterans like Colston and Moore are the key leaders. But what about the other players that need to help make this group more complete? Will Nick Toon live up to the hype? Will rookie Kenny Stills come in and gain some playing time? And will Joe Morgan continue to be the best deep threat for the Saints offense? I'd pay attention to this group during mini-camp!
So as the Saints begin mini-camp this week, the road back to elite status in the NFL continues for a team that went from three straight playoff appearances to a dismal 7-9 mark in 2012! WWL Saints Radio will have complete team coverage of the Saints entire mini-camp online at WWL.com, and listen to our comprehensive edition of Sports Talk each day beginning at 4PM here on Saints Radio 870AM/FM 105.3 and online at WWL.com.
Details: The Saints will hit the field each day at 10:15 a.m. with practice concluding at 12:45 p.m. The practices are open to the public at no charge, and gates will open to the public 45 minutes prior to each practice. And, parking for fans is available in the Zephyr Field parking lot. However, if the Saints are forced to practice indoors due to bad weather, no fans will be allowed in the Saints Indoor practice facility.
The New Orleans Saints were back on the practice field this morning. Today marked the second time the media was allowed to attend a Saints OTA (Organized Team Activity) session. The media was escorted to the field a little before 11AM, and practice ended about noon.
Some of the things that stood out to the Cajun Cannon included the first handful of plays in the team period. Hebert said that the defense did a good job of covering the pass catchers forcing Drew Brees and the other QB’s to hold on to the ball in the pocket too long.
“I think it was a good day for the secondary. And I’ll give the edge to the defense,” said the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert.
Several times in the team sessions at today’s OTA the QB’s had trouble getting the ball off in a timely manner.
After the practice Coach Sean Payton addressed the media and talked about wide receiver Joe Morgan, arrested and charged with DWI over the weekend.
“I just think each team is faced with it at some point, hopefully less than more,” Payton said. “It is what it is in regards to the lesson you hope the players, including Joe, learn from it. It’s our job to keep reinforcing the importance of being smart and making right decisions and it’s something that we really try to pride ourselves in since we began here in 2006.”
Former Saints fullback and current Saints Color Analyst Hokie Gajan was at practice this morning as well. Hokie said that he saw a few new things defensively this week.
“It looks like to me that Rob Ryan (Saints Defensive Coordinator) has had the opportunity to spend some good time with his players and install more packages.”
Hokie also said that he could tell that the defense was giving some different looks at this week’s OTA compared to the one the media attended a week. “A few times the QB had to eat the ball back in the pocket. I thought that was due to good coverage in the secondary,” Gajan said.
New Saints Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan talked about the work he and his defense are getting in right now.
“Most of it is looking correct (digesting the defense). There were a couple of mistakes out there where we really looked exotic. The thing I have been the most impressed about is our veterans and how quickly they’ve picked things up. Guys have position flexibility all through this roster. There are so many talented guys here but, the veterans in particular (have impressed me). The Will Smiths, the (Jonathan)Vilmas, Curtis Lofton, and Roman Harper. I’ve been really impressed with how much these guys love football, how much they study, and what quick learners they are. It’s really been impressive.”
OLB Junior Galette and Will Smith, DE Cam Jordan and CB Patrick Robinson all stood out this morning. Robinson did a good job of covering WR Marques Colston. Robinson knocked the ball out of Colston’s hands on one exchange.
CB Jabari Greer had solid coverage on Colston as well and S Rafael Bush came up big with a near interception. However Bush was out of bounds when he caught the ball. The offense did have their moments as well.
Brees completed a pass to Colston for about 15 yards while Brees went deep to TE Jimmy Graham later in team drills.
Next week's mini-camp sessions: The Saints will get back to work next week as they hold their annual mini-camp sessions next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The Saints will hit the field at 10:15AM with practice concluding at 12:45PM. The morning practices are open to the public and there is no charge to view practice. Gates will open to the public 45 minutes prior to each practice. And parking for fans is available in the Zephyr Field parking lot. However if the Saints are forced to practice indoors due to bad weather, no fans will be allowed in the Saints' indoor practice facility.
LSU Coach Paul Mainieri jumped into the Sports Talk Radio huddle on Monday with me and Bobby Hebert. Coach Mainieri talked about the Tigers’ big SEC Tournament Title win, and he also previewed the Baton Rouge Regional in which the Tigers host Jackson State, UL Lafayette and Sam Houston State.
“Just about everybody performed well. And we needed all of our pitchers to do well. We did not score that many runs in the SEC Tournament,” Coach Mainieri said.
Coach went on to say that the Tigers’ winning of the SEC Tournament gives his team a lot of confidence going into post season play.
The Tigers open regional play this Friday as the take on 4th seed Jackson State. Pre-Game begins at 1:30 with first pitch at 2PM right here on Tiger Radio WWL AM&FM. The winner of the Baton Rouge Regional will take on the winner of the Blacksburg Regional in next week’s Super Regional.
Many folks were kind of surprised and some even upset that LSU came in as the #4 national seed. “I’m not worried about it,” Mainieri told us. “The #1 overall seed has not won the national title since 1999. The most important thing is that we are one of the national seeds. And if we are fortunate enough to win the regional we will host the Super Regional.”
He will be entering his tenth season in the National Football League this season in the same uniform that he began his career in back in 2004. The lone player that is still on the Saints roster from the previous coaching staff will get a new look at opposing offenses this season.
“It creates a story that you guys (the media) can talk about. But I knew all along.” Those were Will Smith’s words when he was talking about moving from defensive end to outside linebacker in the Saints new 3-4 defensive scheme.
“I kind of get put in a hybrid outside linebacker slash defensive end and that’s essentially were I’m going to be playing this year,” Smith said. Smith will be moved from his usual Defensive End position to the Weak side Outside linebacker position.
Smith told us when he re-signed with the Saints this spring that he knew he would be changing positions under new Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan. In 2012 Will had 33 tackles and six sacks for the Saints in 16 regular season games.
Since having a big season in the Saints Super Bowl run in 2009, Smith’s numbers have dropped off the last three years. In 2009 Smith had 37 tackles and 13 sacks. But since that Super Bowl season, Smith’s highest sack number in a season has been 6.5 which he got in 2011.
Smith went on to talk about some of the things he is looking forward to in playing his new position and Smith also talked about some of the challenges he faces at his new spot.
After a season in which the Saints did not have their head coach, in which the club limped through to a very disappointing 7-9 record, New Orleans will hit the field this week as off season practices get underway. The media will get to attend an OTA (Organized Team Activity) session this week for the first time this off season.
Coach Sean Payton today said he’s as eager as the rest of the team to get back on the field.
“In each off-season, you're trying to gain an advantage and improve and get ready for the upcoming year...I'm sure the players just as well as the coaches, myself, everyone is disappointed with the past season. That's kind of behind us, and guys are anxious and yet understanding it's going to be pretty competitive heading into this training camp.”
We all know what Payton means to the Saints franchise, but did any of us expected the team to drop off as bad as they did in 2012? After all the Saints were favored to win 12 games going into last season but fell way short of those predictions winning just seven times.
But after a dismal 0-4 start the Saints never really recovered and finished with a losing record. The Saints not only had a losing record. But the Black and Gold failed to reach the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season.
Now, with everyone back in the fold the team gets to work this week on the field of play. Two of obvious issues, storylines, whatever you may wish to call them, deal with the new look defense and the starting left tackle spot on defense.
When it comes to ranking last, the Saints defense held that title in just about all major stats last season. The defense was so bad it prompted Coach Sean Payton to fire defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo after just one season.
Now, new Coach Rob Ryan brings a swagger to the Saints defense that is much needed. Ryan's defensive style will be an aggressive one that features a lot of blitz packages as well as the development of players already on the roster that have yet to produce solid results.
By the moves made this off season, the Saints and Coach Ryan must feel that players like Junior Gallette and Martez Wilson can be difference-makers under Ryan's scheme. The Saints landed veteran free agent players CB Kennan Lewis and pass rusher Victor Butler this off season. And just today, Coach Payton said that DE Will Smith will see some time at outside linebacker during OTA’s.
And of course, another big question mark is the left tackle position. After starter Jermon Bushrod bolted for big money and the Chicago Bears, the Saints now must find a replacement for Bushrod.
Going into practice the likely possible replacements include former second round draft pick Charles Brown, veteran free agent pick up and former first rounder from St. Louis Jason Smith, along with third round pick from this year’s draft, Terron Armstead.
The problems on the defensive and offensive lines line being solved could help the team in more ways than one. For example, a better offensive line would help improve the leagues’ 25th-ranked running game. And a better rush attack can help a poor defense stay off the field more often, which can only be a good thing.
So, here we go. The trek to getting back to elite status is underway. And if the Saints are to get back to their expected winning ways, fixing some problems on the offensive line and revamping the Saints defense can certainly lead to another winning season…And perhaps even more. Hopefully much more!