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Steve Geller

"WWL First News" Sports Anchor
Weekdays 5am-10am

"Sports Talk" Producer
Weekdays 4pm-8pm

Twitter: @stevegellerWWL
Email: steve@wwl.com

Steve: The biggest letdowns so far at Saints camp

Sorry to be the "Debbie Downer" of the WWL sports team, but all the analysis from Saints training camp can't be positive. The team is off today, so as we get ready to enter week two here in West Virginia, I decided to tell you about the players who have not lived up to expectations.

1. Safety Jarius Byrd

The Byrdman easily tops my list because the guy is STILL NOT PRACTICING. Just like last year, he started camp on the physically unable to perform list and still has not come off of it. Why Byrd is on the PUP remains a mystery. I guess we have to believe the team is being cautious following his knee surgery that ended his 2014 season prematurely, but my concern is growing that the Saints have themselves another bad contract to deal with.

Byrd was given 6 years $56 million, and the ballhawking pro bowler we anticipated can't get on the dang practice field. What keeps popping into my head is the fact we had a Bills beat reporter on when New Orleans first signed Byrd in free agency - when we asked why Buffalo would let a franchise player walk, he responded the team believed he was "damaged goods." Yikes! Mickey, you may have more 'splaining to do.

2. Offensive tackle Andrus Peat

Sorry to say, but the 13th overall pick in this year's draft looks rather ordinary. You expect a kid to struggle out the gates; but besides his size, Peat has done nothing to impress me. He has routinely gotten beaten in one-on-one pass rush drills and has surrendered would-be sacks during the team portion of practice. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt right now because he is a bit behind. Peat wasn't allowed to report for the early portion of the offseason schedule because of Stanford having a late graduation date. We'll see how he progresses now that he has 5 training camp practices under his belt.

3. Quarterback Garrett Grayson

OK, it may seem like I'm picking on rookies now; but Grayson just hasn't looked worthy of a 3rd round draft pick to this point. I can remember Ryan Griffin looking better his first training camp after going undrafted out of Tulane. Along with expected interceptions, Grayson has had the ball just fall out of his hands, is having trouble finding receivers and doesn't seem to be smoothly handing the ball off to the running backs. Luckily there is no added pressure for him to be the starter any time soon, because he needs to put in work. A LOT OF IT!

4. Cornerback Kyle Wilson

Wilson came to New Orleans as a free agent this offseason after spending his 1st four years in the league with the NY Jets. The Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert said it best by stating Wilson is the Jets version of Patrick Robinson. He's a former 1st round pick that never lived up to where he was selected and is looking for a fresh start in new surroundings. The thought was he could compete to be the nickel corner on the Saints, but hasn't done one thing to stand out. Plus, with a bevy of young talent like Delvin Breaux, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Damian Swann and P.J. Williams; I can't see Wilson lasting in camp much longer.
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Steve: LT Terron Armstead leaves Saints practice early

Saints left tackle Terron Armstead left this morning's practice and did not return. When head coach Sean Payton was asked if he would like to elaborate on Armstead's status, the media got the response they knew was coming. "No, he left early."

4th year tackle Bryce Harris replaced him in team drills.

Meanwhile, ball-hawking safety Jairus Byrd missed his 5th day of training camp as he remains on the physically unable to perform list. It could be related to last year's season ending knee injury or could be something else; we have been given no details.

Also long snapper Justin Drescher, tight ends Josh Hill & Kevin Brock, offensive guard Mike McGlynn, rookie cornerback P.J. Williams, and linebackers Anthony Spencer, Dannell Ellerbe and Davis Tull also did not practice.

Some good news at least is that cornerback Brian Dixon returned to practice from the non-football injury list, while defensive end Glenn Foster, who was on the PUP list, did work on the side.
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Going from Patriots to Saints is just business for Brandon Browner

Ever since Jabari Greer got injured and ultimately retired from football the Saints have been without a solid #2 cornerback. The team made sure to rectify that this offseason by inking Brandon Browner to a 3 year, 15 million dollar deal. He is now reunited with former college teammate Keenan Lewis in the Black and Gold secondary.

"At Oregon State we were real good buddies," Browner said. "I'm fortunate to be playing with one of my really good friends. I'm looking forward to working hard like we did at Oregon State."

Both have been working hard to start training camp as both seem to make the highlight reel everyday here in West Virginia. Is it a case where 2 good friends are pushing each other through friendly competition?
"I wouldn't say it's a competition," Browner responded. "We bounce ideas off each other, that's kind of how we were at Oregon State. We worked out, did extra work together at school; we try to do the same thing here."

The big 6ft4, 221 pound cornerback will also try and win a 3rd straight Super Bowl. He was a member of the Seahawks in 2013 and then the Patriots last year. Despite helping New England win a championship, he became a free agent when the team opted to not pick up his 2 million dollar roster bonus. Was there any disappointment on Browner's part?
"This is a business, I wasn't disappointed at all," replied Browner. "When they asked me to take a pay cut; it was time to get up out of there." While the media burst out laughing, he kept a straight face.

Besides age being some analysts concern about the Saints adding the 30 year old to the roster, Browner's physical play can also hurt a ballclub at times. For instance, in the 9 regular season games he played in last year, the CB was flagged for 17 penalties resulting in 12 first downs.

"I try not to think about the officials; take them out of the game," says Browner. "Won't let them change the way I play the game. Obviously some teams like the way I play. I've been a starter across this league on 3 special defenses so I'll continue to be myself.

On the other hand a huge positive he brings to the Saints is a leader in the locker room. Seattle and New England both raved about this guy's presence and how his teammates respond to him.

"I just try to be myself," states Browner states. "I played with 2 championship defenses, so I know what it look like to be on a good defense. I talk to the guys when need be. Try to be a leader as much as I can. We've got talent back there. I just help these guys grow and they can help me grow as well."

With the amount of youth in the Saints secondary, having Browner around to help mold as professionals is so valuable. One kid who he has really taken to so far is Delvin Breaux.

"I've got a lot of love for that cat," says Browner. "I remember I came down to Mardi Gras a couple of years ago and I met him down at St Charles at one of the parades. It's surprising that we are now on the same team. He's one of the guys I want to help grow. Bounce some ideas off of him. We had similar roles going up there to Canada. So some of the things he's seen up there I can relate to. I really like Delvin Breaux."

Let's hope the next parade the 2 are at together is rolling down Poydras after the team hoists the Lombardi trophy once again this year.

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Saints TE Orson Charles suspended for road rage incident

Saints tight end Orson Charles has been suspended by the league for one game for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network.

He was sentenced to diversion after pleading guilty to wanton endangerment in February. In terms you and I can understand, Charles was arrested last April after allegedly pointing a gun at a driver who made an obscene gesture at him.

He was with the Cincinnati Bengals at the time of the incident and was released by the team last August.

Charles was signed to the Saints’ practice squad last September. His lawyer told a Kentucky news station that the tight end would essentially be on probation for two years.
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Steve's Saints training camp Vine-lights from Friday

It was a glorious day here in West Virginia after the mountain fog lifted from the practice field. Saints players got their last taste of practicing without pads, as the real fun starts tomorrow. Here are a few highlights from the day, leading off with running back Khiry Robinson looking like he was shot from a cannon!
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Steve: Ingram hopes for bigger role on Saints offense

For the Saints, one of the few bright spots from last season was Mark Ingram’s break-out year. Whether or not it was the thought of a new contract that fueled his fire, he certainly produced on a high level. Ingram rushed for 964 yards and 9 scores with 145 receiving yards in the 13 games he appeared in. How did it feel to be on the practice field for day one of training camp? “It was good to be back with the team, good to be back to work,” said the running back. “First day is always an important day, sets the tone for the entire camp; for the year." The Black & Gold seemed to lack passion and focus in 2014, which in the end resulted in a 7-9 record that included 5 losses at home where the Saints once seemed invincible. Since last year was such a huge letdown, does Ingram expect this camp to be a lot tougher? “I believe so,” nodded Ingram. “Our year wasn’t what we expected so I think we’re going to be more disciplined; the coaches are going to be on us heavier. The players, we need to be more encouraging. When somebody is not working up to par we need to lift them up. We just all have to work together and be a team from top to bottom. That’s what championship teams do, that’s what championship organizations do. Encourage each other and pick each other up.”

Ingram is also hoping to help pick the team up by getting more opportunities in the offense. Even though the Saints added CJ Spiller, who is a pass catching RB, to the backfield, Ingram is hungry for an increased role in the offense. “Yeah, I hope so. I want to contribute in every aspect. Running the ball, catching the ball, screens, running routes, picking up pass protection… I’m a complete back. I’ve been saying that since forever.”
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Steve: Who will be Saints #2 receiver with Colston on PUP?

It’s still way too early to get worked up over guys starting training camp on the physically unable to perform list, but if Marques Colston does have an injury that will keep him out for an extended period of time; who will replace him as the teams’ #2 receiver?

I have Brandin Cooks slotted as the #1 guy, despite it only being his 2nd season. The 2014 first round draft pick is returning from a hand injury that limited him to just 10 games in his rookie season. Cooks really seemed to be clicking well with QB Drew Brees before getting hurt, and expect that bond to only get stronger this training camp.

That brings us back to the whole “who will be the #2 WR?” discussion. When the players hit the field today I fully expect to see Nick Toon as that guy. He is entering his 4th season as a member of the Black & Gold and 3rd in the system since he missed all of year 1 due to injury.

Toon has seen very limited playing time thus far in his career, but did start to be involved more towards the end of last season. In the Saints final 6 games he caught 17 passes for 215 yards and 1 touchdown. While I realize those aren’t jaw dropping numbers, it is significantly better than the previous 2 years.

He has good size at 6ft2, 215 lbs. and has routinely impressed during practices. The key is to turn in those highlight reel moments when in game situations.

Some will ask, “But what about Seantavious Jones or Brandon Coleman?” While I am excited about see what both 2nd year guys can do, I do not expect two practice squad guys from a year ago to come and snag the #2 job right away. Both are going to have to continue their stellar OTA and mini-camp showings in order to have a shot at earning that role.
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Byrdman: Or (The Unexpected Injuries of a Saints safety)

When the Saints swooped in last offseason to sign the top free agent on the market, there wasn’t a single soul who thought it was a bad decision. But now, in just year two of safety Jaruis Byrd’s 6-year $54 million contract, doubt and concern have crept into the minds of the Who Dat Nation.

The Byrdman will start his 2nd straight training camp on the physically unable to perform list. Last year was because of back surgery, and this season he is recovering from knee injury that limited him to just the first 4 games of the 2014 season. Now, this could just be a precautionary move by the Saints since Byrd was back on the field in OTAs and minicamp in a limited role.

He could come off the PUP anytime during training camp, but until then cannot practice with the team or play in any games.

While we hope that is the case, it doesn’t mean that you cannot wonder if New Orleans made a poor investment. Did the Buffalo Bills let the All-Pro safety walk because they knew he was damaged goods?

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Steve: Pelicans adding Kendrick Perkins

The Pelicans and unrestricted free agent Kendrick Perkins are in the process of finalizing a contract, Marc Stein of ESPN.com reports. Stein adds it will be a one-year deal for the veteran’s minimum.

Perkins played little for the Cavaliers last season after being dealt to Cleveland from Oklahoma city at the halfway point. His season average was 17 minutes with 4 points and 5 rebounds per game in 2014-15.

The 30 year old center is basically just a big body at this point in his career. He will provide some veteran leadership and play the role of enforcer, but I cannot imagine he will have more than a limited role. Bringing Perkins into the mix also means that Jeff Withey will likely not be back in the mix.

Side note: Perkins should bring Tyrke Evans a cookie cake and all should be good 
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Steve: Les Miles says eight wins is certainly not enough

The final day of SEC Media Days finally brought out the guy we’ve all been waiting to see. LSU head coach Les Miles showed off his shoe game, which was the trend this year among the coaches, by putting purple & gold Converse on the table. OK, back to football! The Bayou Bengals finished 2014 with an 8-5 record, while going 4-4 in the SEC, and in the final contest of the year, lost to Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl. Miles knows it wasn't good enough.

“Our team, eight wins, certainly not enough”, Miles admitted. “We played some really good ball clubs in that eight-win season and played them very close, but our goal is the playoffs, our goal is the SEC championship. We're shy of our goals, and we want more. The things that we've done, I think we're in really good shape.”

The only way this team is going to improve this season is if the play at quarterback gets better. Last season both Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris struggled with hitting open receivers and were also victims of drops. Any new info on who could be named the starter week 1 vs. McNeese State?

“I think Brandon Harris has gotten most of the summer work,” Miles stated. “I think he has really improved. I think I'm confident in both guys, and I think competition will end up making the call there who will start. But, again, I think we're nothing but improved at the quarterback spot.”

He thinks Harris has gotten most of the summer work? Les, your other QB is suspended indefinitely for breaking into a student’s apartment to allegedly retrieve items that were stolen from him. Of course Harris has gotten most of the summer work! Miles did say that he does expect Jennings to be cleared by the time summer camp begins next month.

A bright spot on the offense last season was freshman running back Leonard Fournette. He rushed for 1,034 yards and 10 touchdowns and led the SEC in all-purpose yards at 137.4 per game.

“He's one of those guys that is a hard worker,” said Miles. “He's quiet, does not speak much. He truly is a leader of our team. He's a guy that does the work in the classroom, does the work in the weight room, and when we talk about what our team goals and the direction of this team, he's the guy that's integral to those thoughts.”

Another emerging player for the Tigers is on the defensive side of the ball. In his freshman season, safety Jamal Adams had 66 tackles and made the 2014 Freshman All-American and All-SEC Freshman teams. Miles called him one of the finest safeties in the conference and also discussed improvement on the defense despite the Tigers ranking No. 1 in the SEC in passing and total defense.

“Our defensive line, Davon Godchaux and Greg Gilmore, Christian LaCouture, and a number of guys behind him inside I think will push the front very well. On the perimeter, Tashawn Bower and Lewis Neal and a host of other guys will really give us good position and speed on the perimeter there. Our linebackers may be the biggest, fastest that I've been around.”

The Tigers will begin the 2015 season at home against McNeese State on Sept. 5. The following week, conference play kicks off at Mississippi State.
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