When talking about the Saints 2014 draft class, it seems to me as if Fortt's name is often absent from the conversation. Folks are obviously excited about 1st-round pick Brandin Cooks and 2nd-rounder Stanley Jean-Baptiste. The potential of 5th round outside linebacker Ronald Powell comes up, since he is a former top high school recruit in the nation. The Black & Gold's other 5th round pick Vinnie Sunseri's name is whispered since he played for Nick Saban at Alabama, and there's excitement about the safeties' potential on specials teams.
But as far 4th round selection Khairi Fortt… nadda. Why no love or interest in the linebacker?
He has experience in 3-4 and 4-3 alignments and that versatility could be very beneficial in d-coordinator Rob Ryan's scheme.
Fortt is also blessed with natural tools. He's got the size at 6-foot-2, 248 pounds. He's got the strength, registering 30 reps of 225 pounds, a best amongst linebackers at the NFL combine. He managed a 4.70 in the 40-yard dash, but really has field speed and seems to move like a safety; very athletic and agile.
Durability is the big question. He missed the last three games of the 2013 season with a bicep injury. A year earlier, Fortt was redshirted due to knee surgery after transferring to Cal from Penn State.
The Saints obviously feel his talent is worth the "risk" or they wouldn't have grabbed him in round 4. The hope is that he can develop into a replacement for Curtis Lofton or David Hawthorne as one of the Black & Gold's ILBs.
At worst, Fortt should improve the special teams unit, but the combination of his upside in the hands of Coach Ryan could result in a bigger rookie impact.
The big news from Saints camp today was the return of safety Jairus Byrd from the physically unable to perform list. It was the first time anyone has seen him run drills with the team, as he missed all of organized team activities and minicamp after having back surgery.
"I'm glad we did the procedure when we did, rather than try and get through the season in a maintenance mode," Coach Sean Payton said. "I know he feels better, and yet we still got to be smart here. We've got a lot of time and a lot of things that we've got to do. And a lot of things he has to be able to catch up on. But he's a quick stud, he been attentive in all the meetings. It's good having him out here."
Byrd was limited and didn't participate in every drill, which is to be expected for his first day back. He didn't want to get into any details about the exact procedure that was done, but it happy to back with his new team. "It's hard, anytime you see those guys putting in that work out there that's where I want to be," Byrd said. "I'm just thankful that I get to be out there today, you appreciate the little things a lot more when you can't do them."
Fellow safety Rafael Bush is glad to have Byrd back in the secondary mix. Bush doesn't think it will take long for him to get up to speed. "He's a smart player, I don't think it will take to much of his time," said Bush. "He's in the meeting room; he's studying, and asking me and Kenny (Vaccaro) questions. I think once he gets out there, he's just going to hit the ground running, so were excited!"
Another day, another name added to the list of players not taking part in practice. First it was Kenny Stills with a injured quad (still out), then Robert Meachem was absent yesterday due to his back (also still out), and now offensive lineman Ben Grubbs was just in shorts today; not taking part in any on the field work.
Head coach Sean Payton just said, "Both Ben and Robert will be back here, I think, in the next day or so, but in regards to injuries, as always, we never get into detail with them."
Asked about day two of pads, Payton added, "I thought we had good tempo at practice. I thought it was crisp. We'll see the film. And again, it kind of goes back and forth. I thought the kicking game, as well, we did some good things. But after our second padded practice, there were a lot of things we can coach up and get corrected."
Saints head coach is an ANIMAL folks. Running cross fit drills after practice.
Second-year player Tim Lelito is battling veteran Jonathan Goodwin for the starting center position currently, but says Goody is being a great mentor despite the fact they are fighting for the same job. "When we're at lunch and dinner, I sit down with him and talk about 'hey what are we doing on this, and if the shifts here then what do you think?'" Lelito said. "We have a good rapport on and off the field."
Offensive guard Zach Strief says that is the norm around this team. Veteran Saints helping out young players, even if they are fighting for the same gig, has always been a consistent aspect of this team.
"Having that in a team is what creates a culture of success," Strief says. "That knowledge you gain by playing is invaluable, and as good as our coaching staff is, there are certain things you only get from experience. To be able to pass that down I think keeps this team competitive. Really, it's a testament to Mickey Loomis and Coach Payton and the kind of guys they've always brought in here. I think everyone loves coming to work because they've brought in good guys, guys that try to do the right thing. And really, the right thing is to do is to help the guys behind you."
Make it two wide receivers on the stationary bike, as Robert Meachem joined Kenny Stills today. Stills is nursing a quad injury and Saints head coach Sean Payton revealed today that Meachem has a sore back.
"He came off; his back was flaring up a little bit. We'll just have him calm down and he should be fine," said Payton.
He also said he has been pleased with the work so for from the young receivers. He specially mentioned Seantavius Jones, who made a sweet grab this morning, and also Branson Coleman who has looked much better at training camp then he did at OTAs or mini-camp. Both are tall targets.
WR Brandin Cooks talked to us the first time this morning. He's the Black & Gold's 1st round draft pick, and besides being a target for QB Drew Brees, Cooks will also be involved on special teams in the return game. But will he return punts or kicks?
"I feel like I'll be asked to do both," Cooks said. "So its just a matter of where they want to put me at, and where they feel most comfortable for me to play."
Meanwhile, veteran cornerback Champ Bailey was involved in the play of the day. Brees completed a pass to fullback Erik Lorig and Bailey came up and caused a fumble. The ball looked to be heading out of bounds, but safety Rafael Bush dove to keep it in play. Bailey then made the recovery, drawing cheers from the fans in attendance.
"I kind of take it personally when a guy sticks his hand in my face," Bailey said. "He tried to stiff-arm me; I'm not going to hurt him, I don't know why he did that. So I just had to make him pay somehow. The best way is to get the ball from him. And Bush; I didn't see him coming. All of a sudden the ball is back in my face again. I just got my head up, caught it and then we got a turnover."
After waiving some players right before the start of training camp, the Saints signed a handful of kids, including linebacker Marcus Thomson out of Rutgers. He was initially picked up after this year's draft by the Dolphins but was waived in May in order for the 'Fins to sign a guard to their roster.
Thompson is now getting a 2nd chance to make an impression on an NFL team - New Orleans signed him 3 weeks after Miami let him go. In college he played in 42 games, starting in 26 of them. He finished his career with 91 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss and one forced fumble.
The LB was named the Scarlet Knights co-defensive MVP as a senior, after leading the team with 5.5 sacks. Now on the Saints roster this training camp, Thompson has his work cut out for him to try and catch the eye of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
That's him making the tackle. He stands 6-foot-2, 260 pounds and registed 4.57 & 4.60 40-yard dash times at his pro day.
The former Middle Tennessee State quarterback beat out former LSU Tiger Jordan Jefferson and former Tennessee Titan Rusty Smith in the Saints rookie camp to earn an invite to training camp.
He played 4 seasons of college ball, and was the starter in 3 of them. Kilgore passed for 7,849 yards with 56 touchdowns and 36 interceptions while completing 61% of his passes. The kid is no dummy either. He received his MBA in December, while carrying a 4.0 grade point average.
Kilgore stands 6-foot-2, 215 pounds and is 24 years old. His chances of making the Saints roster, honestly, are slim to none. I don't think he'll even get practice squad consideration, but he could latch on with another ballclub in the league if he is able to impress in training camp.
The Saints defense struggled today according to defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. He said that the offense was rolling out there on the practice field, and that the effort wasn't their best.
Ryan also touched on cornerback Patrick Robinson who is coming back this season after suffering a season ending knee injury in week 2 a year ago. P-Rob is running and cutting well, while competing for the #2 CB job opposite Keenan Lewis. His main competition is Corey White and Champ Bailey. Ryan added that White is a very smart, talented guy who can play multiple positions.
Rob Ryan's hair is also a talking point for many folks and he admitted that is has gotten a bit too long and needs a hair-cut. Relax, locks lovers… I'm sure it will be just a trim.
It's no secret the Black and Gold are trying to improve the run game this year and become a more balanced offense. RB Mark Ingram is entering a contract year now that the Saint opted not to pick up the 5th year of his rookie option and has high expectations for himself. He feels getting more touches allows him to get into a "rhythm" running the ball and is a key to his success.
Meanwhile fellow tailback Pierre Thomas is the leader of the RB corp as he enters his 8th season as a Saint. "It's a blessing to be on the same team for 8 years". PT said. "I'm happy to be where I'm at, it keeps myself grounded. I just got to keep grinding."
Thomas also says he is very aware that the team is stocked full of talented backs, but plans on making it tough on all of them to take touches away from him. PT seems extra eager to bring it this year.
And with tomorrow's practice being the first time players will be in pads, defensive lineman Akiem Hicks says that the linemen are all looking forward to clashing. There's been a lot of smack talk and now it's time to see who can back it up.
Right off the bat, I'm rooting for this guy to make the roster just so I can hear the Bobby Hebert butcher his name all the time. Hopefully talent runs in the family, because Uzo-Diribe is cousins with defensive end Osi Umenyiora who has appeared in 2 Pro Bowls, and holds the NFL record for forced fumbles in a season with 10.
Let's get back to Uzo-Diribe though. The outside linebacker signed with the Saints as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Colorado. He appeared in 49 games for the Buffaloes and totaled 118 tackles (99 solo), 32 tackles for loss, 20 sacks, 10 forced fumbles and 6 passes defended. He had an outstanding year as a senior, posting 46 tackles (11 for loss), four sacks and five forced fumbles (second in the nation) and was named a captain by his teammates.
Uzo-Diribe really opened eyes with his explosiveness and athleticism at the Shrine Game practices according to the NFL Network's Buck Brooks. The 6-foot-3 250 pounder displayed a devastating speed rush move in 1-on-1 practice drills which he complimented with an inside spin move. Where Brooks saw room for improvement was Uzo-Diribe's inconsistent pad level and hand usage against the run. Sometimes he has difficulty shedding blocks, especially on running plays when offensive linemen get into his pads.
Making the Saints' roster is a steep uphill climb for this kid. He is too small to play his college position of defensive end in the NFL so he's trying to adjust to playing outside linebacker.
Playing LB in the pros means you need a variety of skill sets including run stopping, pass rushing and dropping back in coverage. Attempting to adjust to those new responsibilities while playing in defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's complicated scheme makes life as a "rook" even that more difficult.
We shall see if Uzo-Diribe can carve out a role for himself on special teams. That is always the best chance for a player to make any teams' final roster.
Many were surprised when Rutgers wide receiver Brandon Coleman was not among the 256 players selected in this year's NFL draft. He received a 3rd round grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board after a breakout sophomore season (43 catches for 718 yards and 10 touchdowns) in 2012 and decided to return to school for his junior year. Just when he was starting to generate 1st-round buzz, a knee injury limited his production.
The 6-foot-6 225 pounder had 34 catches for 538 yards and four touchdowns last season, and admitted that he was hampered by a torn meniscus in his right knee, an injury he suffered in the springtime.
He looked OK at the NFL Combine, running a 4.56 40-yard dash, which is a solid time considering his size. Coleman also managed 21 bench press reps. Still, the knee injury that caused him to have a down year ultimately cost him from being a mid-round pick to an undrafted free agent. OUCH!
After the draft, he garnered interest from the Patriots, Chargers, Rams and the Saints. He chose New Orleans because he felt comfortable with the team after his pre-draft visit.
Unfortunately for Coleman, he stood at Saints organized team actives and mini-camp for the wrong reasons. Drops seemed to plague the receiver almost every day, causing many to write off his chances at making the roster even before training camp began.
But now, here we are in West Virginia, and Coleman has gotten off on the right foot. QB Ryan Griffin tossed a deep ball the wide receiver's way and Coleman leapt into the air hauling in the pass in front of CB Corey White. The fans roared with approval - that was possibly the top highlight from today's camp.
Now we'll have to see if Coleman can produce on a more consistent basis. If the "dropsies" become routine, he has no chance. Even if he catches every ball thrown his way in camp, it will be tough to make this roster. I don't foresee him being able to contribute on special teams because of his lack of speed, but do envision him as a prime practice squad candidate.
Maybe I'm just enamored with his size, or the fact that he is a NJ kid (Jersey strong!) but I feel Brandon Coleman could become a viable weapon in years to come, and is worth holding on to.
The first practice of Saints training camp is in the books! The big story today was the cool, manageable temperature in West Virginia, and safety Jarius Byrd being placed on the physically unable to perform list.
Coach Sean Payton said of Byrd that he should be back sooner than later. They are just being cautious with him, and want to make sure he is 100% before he returns to any on-the-field action. Byrd had back surgery this offseason and missed all of organized team activities and mini-camp. The Saints gave him a $5 year 54 million dollar deal when the free agency period opened.
Payton added that he felt the first practice was sharp. While players were not in pads, he added it was good to see guys moving around well.
Joe Morgan is one of those players moving around well. Payton said the speedy receiver has really recovered well from knee surgery that was a lot worse than anyone really thought.
The $40 million dollar man Jimmy Graham also spoke today for the first time since cashing in on his 4 year deal. He said, "You don't know how much you miss it till you're away for that amount of time." The big TE was absent all of OTAs and minicamp while waiting for a contract.
Graham says he is happy that's all behind him now and he can focus on the team and the season. There are no hard feelings between him and management. Graham just looks at it as if he was on an extended vacation, but is now back and ready to go.
Jonathan Vilma actually played a big role in Graham's condition while being away from the Saints. The former Black and Gold linebacker worked out with Jimmy in Miami the entire time and even served as a therapist; guiding him though the tough times of contract negations.
Quarterback Drew Brees shared everyones joy over the change of scenery for this training camp. The first thing he said to the media was, "This is unbelievable here, ain't it?" Brees added it was the first time ever at a training camp he was able to lay down in the grass and it was actually cool.
Brees did say the timing between he and Graham needs to be worked on, since the duo missed some time together during his contract holdout. He added, "Jimmy is Jimmy" and the TE is definitely in shape, as he registered the fastest time in the team's condition test.
Rookie receiver Brandin Cooks had an impressive grab - when asked about it #9 lit up and grinned, saying Cooks is talented and intelligent. The WR wants to be great, and is a sponge when it comes to soaking up input from players and coaches.
For anyone worrying about Brees getting up there in age now that he's 35 years old; don't be. He says he feels like he's 25 and wants to play another 10 years. That is a real goal. Brees feels age is just a state of mind.
Talking about an NFL's team's kicking game never seems important, until you need the guy to drill a game-winning 49-yarder with seconds on the clock. When you look at the Saints roster this year, kicker is one of the few question marks.
Shanye Graham joined the Saints late last year after Garret Hartley was cut. The 37 year old has played for 8 other teams before coming to New Orleans. His longest stay was with the Cincinnati Bengals from 2003-2009. For his career, he has made 85.5% of his field goal attempts, and did a decent job for the Black and Gold last year.
In two regular season games, he was 2-for-2 and was instrumental in the team winning their first road playoff game against the Eagles, making all 4 kicks in a 35-24 win.
But Graham allowed some doubt to creep in when the Saints lost in Seattle the following week in the divisional round. He missed a 45-yarder in the 1st quarter and 48-yarder in the 4th and finished 0-for-2 on the day.
Enter 24 year old Derek Dimke! The youngster has a strong leg; problem is, he has never kicked in an actual NFL game. He first came into the league in 2012, signing with the Detriot Lions as an undrafted free agent. He was released after the preseason. He then had a one-month stint with the Jets from April to May of 2013, which was then followed by some time with the Bucs, who also cut him after the preseason.
Experience usually wins when it comes to a kicker, but this is definitely a position battle we will be watching during training camp.
The Who Dat Nation let out a big exhale Tuesday morning when Jimmy Graham signed a 4 year $40 million dollar deal with the Saints. Crisis averted. No worries now that Drew Brees' top target will be absent when the team reports for training camp on July 24th.
Just how essential is Graham to the Saints? Over the last three seasons, he has led all NFL players (wide receivers and tight ends) with 36 touchdown catches. He's also racked up 3,507 yards receiving in that span, helping Brees achieve 3 straight years of 5,000+ yards passing.
Graham just may be the 2nd most important player on this roster. But who else makes up the Saints core? You know; the guys this ballclub cannot do without? Brees and Graham are obviously the foundation, and here are a few others:
DE Cameron Jordan: One word for Cam…STUD! A physical specimen at 6-ft-4, 287 pounds, combined with elite ability, translates into a defensive end you want around for a looooooong time. The team just picked up the 5th year of his rookie contract, but after the 2015 season, we could be in store for another Brees/Graham contract standoff. Sure would be nice if the team extend him before then, but it's just not the way GM Mickey Loomis and Co. operate.
S Jairus Byrd: While we haven't seen him in action yet, the Saints are banking that Byrd is top notch safety for the next 6 seasons after giving him $54 million. Players of his caliber don't often wind up on the free agent market, and the Black & Gold swooped in under the radar to nab him when the signing period opened. His penchant for picking off passes have earned him "ballhawking" status in the league, and is exactly what the doctor ordered for a Saints defense that struggled to create takeaways a year ago.
WR Marques Colston: Now don't give me any flack here, saying he's past his prime and on the decline. Sure, Colston didn't register 1,000 yards receiving in 2013 for only just 2nd time in his career, but he has been quite consistent year in and year out. He is still a go-to-guy for Brees, and one of the best at helping the team convert a 3rd and long. Crazy as it may seem, the "Quiet Storm" has never earned a spot on the Pro Bowl's roster; but he holds the Saints franchise record for TD receptions with 63. It will be a sad day when the 9 year vet decides to hang up the cleats for good.
OG Jahri Evans: Like Colston, he may be on the downside of his career but is still one of the best in the game at his position. His job is pretty damn important too; protecting Brees. We saw the entire O-line have issues last year as Evans struggled, playing through injury. If you look at his resume, Evans was a first team All-Pro from 09-12 and despite being hurt still managed to make the 2nd team last season.
Three more young guns with core potential: S Kenny Vaccaro, DE/DT Akiem Hicks, & OT Terron Armstead.
Well folks, my summer vacation is already underway, but it looks like Pelicans guard Tyreke Evans has beaten me to the fun at the pool.
Besides the sweet windmill jam; you see that form on that jumper from the shallow end? MONEY!
Evans is entering year two of his four-year, $44 million dollar deal with the Pelicans, and is hoping his late season surge earns him a starting gig this coming year instead of being the team's 6th man.
Keep up that pool game Reke, I'm about to join ya!
Remember the relentless coverage of Drew Brees' contract squabble with the Saints back in 2012? Well, buckle up folks, because the Jimmy Graham show is in town this year, and it has a lot more question marks and room for speculation than Brees' deal did.
Act One of the soap opera just came to a close. Graham was ruled a tight end by an arbitrator for the sake of the franchise tag. He wanted to be considered a wide receiver since that tag amount was worth $12.3 million, while the TE tag is $7 million for the year.
OK, so he's a tight end. Easy peezy, lets get a long term deal worked out, right? Ahh, not so fast. Graham still has a 10-day window to appeal the arbitrator's decision to a 3 member panel. As of right now, we still dont know his plans, as Graham's camp has been quiet since the ruling.
This presents a new problem, because the clock is ticking to get a long term contract worked out and the deadline to do so is July 15th. If the two sides don't come to an agreement by then, Graham would have to play under the one year franchise tag or (dramatic pause) choose to sit out the season. Sitting out doesnt seem like a likely option, though, since Graham would be leaving a $7 millon dollar stack of cash on the table. According to the NFL Network, negotiations between the Saints and Graham's agent are at GROUND ZERO! Basically meaning the two sides are starting all over, back to square one.
But wait, that's not all! Tell 'em what else we have, ProFootballTalk.com! Well now that the Saints have a starting point for contract talks for Jimmy Graham, so do other teams. Would another ballclub really part ways with two first round draft picks for a tight end? And could one of the teams be the hated Atlanta Falcons who just had their Pro Bowl TE retire? Whew, I dunno about you folks, but I need a cocktail.
To recap: We need to find out now if Graham will appeal the arbitrator's ruling. If he does, who knows how long the panel will take to make a decision. Getting a long term contract worked out by the 15th would be very difficult is he goes this route,
If Graham accepts the arbitrator's ruling, he and the Saints could be negotiating right now trying to get that multi-year deal worked out. Tick-tock, tick-tock!
While not good news for Graham, it is great news for the Saints. Instead of having to worry about finagling with the salary cap ramifications of their TE now being ruled a WR with a tag of $12.3 million, it remains at $7 million.
Graham may decide to appeal this ruling, but I'm guessing it won't make a difference. The NFL does not want the players following suit in the fututre.
You are what you are! Graham was drafted as a tight end, went to the Pro Bowl as a tight end, is in Saints meetings as a tight end, oh, and on his twitter profile… he calls himself a tight end!
But something has really bothered me from the onset, and that's why did the Saints let it get to this point? It seems so simple to have extended Jimmy before the start of last season.
I guess if GM Mickey Loomis and the rest of the Saints front office were willing to drag out contract talks with future Hall of Famer, Super Bowl MVP and franchise face Drew Brees; taking this route with Graham shouldn't be a surprise to me.
I just feel though that you are spending more money in the long run by not locking up your key, core players until their deal is up. The Saints should have extended Brees before the 2011 season and "shoulda-woulda-coulda" extended Graham at the beginning of last year.
The way the team does business, it seems as if we'll be headed down this road in 2016 when Cameron Jordan's rookie deal is up.