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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
Posts from August 2014


Steve: Inside the SEC week one
What a start to the college football season the other night! Aggies fans have already forgotten all about Jonny Football thanks to Kenny Hill - the sophomore broke Manziel's single-game passing record with 511 yards, and No. 21 Texas A&M beat No. 9 South Carolina 52-28, ending the Gamecocks' 18-game home win streak.

#18 Ole Miss took down Boise State as Bo Wallace threw for 387 yards, 4 TDs and 3 picks.  Meanwhile, Vanderbilt brought shame to the conference getting decimated 37-7 at home against Temple - the Owls got their first win over an SEC team since 1938 when they bested Florida.

Here's a look at what’s happening this weekend:

SOUTH DAKOTA STATE at MISSOURI
Missouri was underestimated early last season, but it did not take long for people to realize their true potential. This year they are being given a bit more credit by starting out the season in the AP Top 25. The Tigers may struggle this season, especially following the dismissal of their best wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. They shouldn’t have trouble against South Dakota State though, as strong-armed QB Maty Mauk will likely lead Missouri to victory.

ALABAMA vs. WEST VIRGINIA (in Atlanta, Ga.)
There are few concerns with this year's Crimson Tide. It is likely that this game against the Mountaineers will be used as trial run for both quarterback candidates Jacob Coker and Blake Sims  Eventually in this game expect the offensive firepower of T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper, along with Saban's smothering defense, to be too much for West Virginia to handle. The Crimson Tide should start the year with a comfortable victory.

ARKANSAS at AUBURN
For some reason, this game is landing on a lot of people’s upset-special lists. Unless Auburn truly was a smoke-and-mirrors outfit with no substance in 2013, Arkansas will be down 14 by the time the Hogs leave the hotel. Arkansas has no defense until it proves otherwise, and the offense can’t keep up with the Tigers. Unless Auburn comes apart this one won’t be close. 

CLEMSON at GEORGIA
Georgia’s championship aspirations might be over quickly, as the Bulldogs open with Clemson and then South Carolina, with an off-week in between. Clemson won this game last year and relegated Georgia to also-ran status, and the Bulldogs are well are well aware of it. Both teams are replacing successful quarterbacks, both have questions on defense and both are desperate to take the next step up in national prominence. With the game in Athens, I’d say bet on the red and black.
 
IDAHO at FLORIDA
As the Gators try to get their confidence back, the first week of play will at least allow them to take things slowly. The Vandals have no chance at taking down an SEC team, much less one most people figure to be competitive this year. The real question in this game is how much improvement we’ll see from Jeff Driskel under center for Florida.  It will be his first action since suffering a broken leg last year. 

SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI at MISSISSIPPI STATE
Southern Miss has fallen to depths previously unforeseen in Hattiesburg, and could do a lot for its rebuilding image by upsetting a heavily favored in-state opponent - but forget it, folks.  State is a solid team that needs to fill just a couple of holes while Southern Miss needs to fill entire platoons. The Golden Eagles are going down hard.

LSU vs. WISCONSIN (in Houston, Texas)
This is an intriguing matchup, to say the least: Wisconsin has better stability, LSU has far better team talent, and by virtue of catching the Tigers before their quarterback situation gets ironed out, Wisconsin has upset on their mind. The Badgers might run the ball effectively, but LSU has tons more speed on defense, and it’s unlikely the Wisconsin offensive line is accustomed to dealing with edge rushers like the ones the Tigers possesses.  This one’s going to be close but I’ll take the Bayou Bengals.

UTAH STATE at TENNESSEE (Sunday)
Hey, Tennessee could actually lose this game. The Vols are no lock to win, and if Utah State had just a bit more coming back to go along with QB Chuckie Keeton, I might make them my pick. It’s sad that one of the SEC’s traditional powers has been relegated to fighting for its life against mid-major programs for the last four or five years, but that’s the current reality in Knoxville.
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Steve: Brees back at practice after helping deliver baby girl
Drew Brees and his wife Brittany welcomed a 7-pound 7-ounce, 20-inch long baby girl to the family last night at 7:43pm.  They have the name picked out, but it’s not on the birth certificate yet so Drew didn’t want to share it just yet.

“Brit and her are healthy, happy; everybody’s doing great,” Brees said.  “It melted my heart to watch her be born last night.  Got to take the snap, so to speak, and catch her on the way out so that’s a memory I’ll have forever.  She already has daddy wrapped around her little finger and she’s less than 24 hours old.”
The new addition is child number four for Drew, and the first girl. How are the three boys liking the idea of a baby sister?

“The older two are definitely really excited,” Brees said with a smile. “The younger one who just turned two, he’s in a big momma phase right now, so anything that is diverting her attention away from him is probably not something he’s going to be a fan of right now. No, but they’re all really really excited. We’ve obviously been talking about it for a long time.  Even going back to when Brittany first got pregnant and we didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl; just asking them do you want another brother or a little sister? And they all said baby sister, so they got their wish.”
 
The Who Dat Nation retweeted and commented on the picture of Baby Brees.  How does it feel to receive that kind of support from the fans?

“It’s awesome”, responded Brees. “They are all New Orleans babies. New Orleans will always have a special place in our hearts and theirs. This is their birth place; this is where they are growing up.  It just goes to show the relationship between us and the fans, it goes well beyond the playing field or what we do in the Superdome on Sunday.  Which I would say is most unique across all professional sports.  I don’t know if it’s like that anywhere else.”

Well said. Congrats…Drew Dat!
 
 
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Steve: Three exciting Saints players to watch tonight
There are quite a few reasons that Saturday night’s preseason tilt in Indianapolis is going to be exciting for Saints fans.

You get to see Drew Brees in action for the first time, as he missed the first 2 preseason contests with a strained left oblique. Also big ticket free agent acquisition Jarius Byrd will see his first game action in Black & Gold, as the safety has been given clearance for contact following back surgery.  And, of course preseason game #3 means were are that much closer to the real thing, baby! 

With the first set of roster cuts coming on Tuesday, here are 3 players who I’ll be looking out for in this one:

1.     Cornerback Champ Bailey

Bailey has spent very little time partaking in team drills, but the future Hall-of-Famer doesn’t really need the practice reps.  We all know who Champ is and what he’s capable of, but does he really have any gas left in the tank?  Whatever the reason may be for the Saints limiting his training camp participation, I’m all for it.  Keep those legs fresh for the regular season. Let’s see if Andrew Luck dares to throw the 36-year-old's way.  

2.     Wide Receiver Nick Toon

"Will the real Nick Toon please stand up, please stand up, please stand up?" There have been times during this year’s camp when the 2012 4th round draft pick has looked amazing, but then come a game situation, POOF, he vanishes. Right now, I have Joe Morgan ahead of Toon for the 4th WR spot, but the team will carry 5 receivers or possibly 6 this season.  Would you rather have Toon or Robert Meachem?  I’d lean toward Meachem right now just because I know what I’m getting.  Toon needs to show me something during show time to get my nod of approval.


3.     Outside Linebacker Kasim Edebali

Many of you are reading this right now and are saying, “Who the heck are you talking about?”  I feel you, but when fellow OLB Junior Galette singles Edebali out as a player that has stood out to him this camp, you make a note and be sure to pay attention.  Here is a rookie profile of Edebali I did during camp to get a little background on him.  So far in the previous 2 preseason games he has registered 2 tackles, 1 sack, 1 tackle for loss and 1 QB hit.  We’ll see if he becomes one of those undrafted rookie free agent finds to make the roster. 
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Steve: Who Dat say they got the best fans in the NFL?
We hear from Saints players and coaches all the time the Who Dat Nation is the best fan base in the NFL.  But do those outside Louisiana agree? 

Well, according to Forbes the Black and Gold boast only the 3rd-best fan base in pro football.     

"Blasphemy," you say! Which legion of loyal supporters could possibly top a single Who Dat - much less the entire nation?
 
Coming in at #1 are those cheesehead Green Bay Packers fans, and in at #2 are the Orange & Blue Denver Bronco fan base.  

I am surprised to find that the category that really caused the Saints fan base to come in at #3 was merchandise sales.  The Black and Gold rank 10th there, while finishing 2nd in hometown crowd, 1st in TV audience rank, 1st in stadium attendance rank, and 2nd in social media rank.  
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Steve: Big-name Saints will make preseason debut Saturday
Champ Bailey and Patrick Robinson participated in team drills for the second straight day, which is a great sign both are feeling better from undisclosed injuries that has kept them out for a significant amount of time. Will they be a go for Saturday’s preseason contest against the Colts?

“Well, I think the plan is to play them,” Payton said. “Then more importantly, the correct amount of reps. So, we went through the roles yesterday, what our goals are. But both of those guys will play.”

Rookie Brandin Cooks was back in action after missing some time due to illness. Payton said the other day he was dealing with a stomach virus and fever. Will the first round draft pick see the field in Indy? “We’ll see,” answered Payton.  “We’ll see where he’s at tonight and tomorrow. Really just keeping him hydrated, getting his body weight up a little bit.”
 
The Colts will be a good test for the Saints, as they are one of the better teams in the AFC, finishing 11-4 last season and losing to the Patriots in the AFC divisional round of the playoffs.  

Of the Colts, Payton said “There are a lot of new faces, guys that are very impressive and can run. Obviously we know the quarterback has turned into a real good football player, he’s got the arm to make all the throws.  I think the offensive line has played well.  And so when you put that together with the defense, you’re seeing a young roster that has played well and I’m sure they have high expectations.”   

Obviously goal #1 in this contest is to stay healthy, but does quarterback Drew Brees have any other goals in mind? “Look sharp, make good decisions, score points,” Brees responded. “Feel like we get good tempo and rhythm going in the game.”
 
Preseason game #3 is typically where starters see a bulk of the playing time before the regular season kicks off.  Does that make this exhibition game more meaningful?

“It is important, that’s why I want to play well,” said Brees. “I want to get out there and feel comfortable. This week has been great just to get back out and feel like I’m throwing the ball like I should.  Now it’s just time to take it to the game field and go through this final dress rehearsal before the season.”
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Steve: NFL wants Super Bowl halftime acts to pay to play
We all know that the Super Bowl is pro football's biggest stage and the most-viewed annual American sporting event. And apparently so does the NFL.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the league has asked some of the musical acts under consideration to play at this coming Super Bowl to pay them to take the stage. 
 
The NFL has reportedly notified Rihanna, Katy Perry, and Coldplay that they are under consideration to perform at the big game, and asked the artists to either give a portion of their post Super Bowl tour proceeds to the league or make some type of financial contribution in exchange for being offered the gig.

The WSJ says the artists' representatives have balked at the request.

Wait a minute, I thought the NFL was against pay for play. BOOM!
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Steve: Payton will be smart with Jairus Byrd at Colts
The Saints big $54 million dollar free agent acquisition finally participated in team drills today for the first time EVER. Yes, Who Dat Nation, ballhawking safety Jarius Byrd is a full go for the Black & Gold after missing all of organized team activities, all of mini-camp and all of training camp in West Virginia.

“Now, it’s just... I’m looking ahead,” said the Byrdman. “I’m looking ahead to what we have to get accomplished this game and long road we have ahead for the season.”

Wait did he say this game? Like, Saturday in Indianapolis versus the Colts?  

“In my mind I’m expecting to play,” Byrd stated.  “My mindset is I’m going to play. Now the last say-so goes through Coach Payton so I’m just preparing myself as if I’m going to play.  But things can change, I don’t know.”


Sean Payton sounded confident when asked about Byrd having a very physical first day, including a pad-smacking collision with running back Mark Ingram.

“Basically the last step was getting clearance for contact,” Payton said. “He’s gotten that final clearance so now you’re seeing him with no limitations.”

CLEARANCE FOR CONTACT! Glorious coach! So will Byrd play Saturday?

“When you take a player like Jarius, this is an important game because he hadn’t been able to play in the first two,” responded Payton. “We’ll be smart with the reps we give him, the amount we give him, but I don’t think you can just throw the ball out there and play. There is a little bit of football conditioning that goes ino it and I think that’s important.” 

Sounds like #31 is ready to take flight to me.

I’ll wrap up this blog the exact same way practice concluded today… DREW DAT! 
 
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Steve: Stills learned about more than football while missing Saints camp
The Saints were forced to move today’s practice indoors due to the rain; which means access to the fans is closed.  

Receiver Kenny Stills practiced fully with the team for only the second straight day, as he has missed most of camp due to a quad injury he suffered on the first day.

“I feel like I’ve missed out on a lot,” Stills said. “There was a lot of team-building in camp; getting in shape, getting the reps with Drew and the offense. So I’ve missed out on a lot, but I’ve been focused. I’ve been paying attention and taking great notes, so I don’t feel like I’m too far behind.” 

Something we can all relate to is having a hard time learning patience.  For a kid like Stills, who is entering his 2nd season in the NFL and chomping at the bit to get on the practice field, missing any time with the team is difficult.

“It’s tough not playing,” Stills explained. “Especially when you go through the offseason and you’re so excited to get back and play - to get hurt in the first day was rough for me.  I had to kind of go through that whole dealing with patience, and learning patience. So that’s been rough, but I’m happy to be here and I’m feeling good. Hopefully I can continue to progress and feel better."

Stills, like Brees, plans on playing Saturday in Indianapolis for preseason game #3.

Running back Mark Ingram is looking to make a mark on the team and the league this season, and it’s not just because he happens to be in a contract year.

“I think people over-exaggerate it,” Ingram stated. “I mean it’s important obviously, but every year is important.  Just to say I’ll put more emphasis on this year then the past three years just because it’s my contact year is ridiculous.”

Ingram seems to really be running the football with a lot more confidence this season. Another important added facet to his game has been getting more involved in the passing game: “Trying to take advantage of the reps so that I have a chance to do it, just to show that I’m capable of doing it,” said Ingram.  “I like to be involved in every aspect of the game!"


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Steve: About those Jimmy Graham dunks...
Droves of fans showed up in Metairie to welcome the Saints back, and the Who Dats in attendance were treated to the return of Drew Brees to the practice field.  The quarterback had not taken part in any team drills since an oblique strain kept him out of the "Black & Gold Scrimmage" in West Virginia.

“It was great to be back in front of the home fans again, great to be back in New Orleans, great to be home”, said Brees. “As you approach that 3rd preseason game, this is really that final dress rehearsal for the regular season.  This is when the season becomes really eminent.”

And as for that 3rd preseason game Saturday in Indianapolis…does Brees want to play in it?

“No question,” Brees responded quickly. “I feel good. Today was my first day to kind of be full go.  I’ve been taking it very slow, very deliberate. No use in rushing something that could get worse.  I wanted to make sure that it was all good.  I’m still not 100%, but I hope that by Saturday I am.”
 
Jimmy Graham was single handedly responsible for 2 of the Saints 22 penalties this past Friday against the Titans after dunking over the goal post following his 2 touchdown grabs.   He and Coach Sean Payton had it out on the sidelines in that contest, and now the tight end assures us that his days of incurring a 15 yard penalty are a thing of the past.

“Obviously I would never do anything to hurt this team in the regular season because obviously the game is bigger than any individual player,” Graham said. “I’m just trying to win games, and that’s all I really care about. Week one through however many we play, I’m going to do what’s best for the team.” 
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Steve: Pelicans open 2014-15 season vs Orlando
Will this be the season the New Orleans basketball franchise makes a return to the postseason?  Well, the Pelicans schedule for 2014-15 has been released and hopes are high that budding superstar Anthony Davis can lead the ball club to a berth in the playoffs.  It won’t be an easy task as the Western Conference is once again stacked with talent.

The Pels open the season on Tuesday, October 28th in the Smoothie King Center against the Orlando Magic. Some other highlights of their home slate include bouts against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers on November 12th, league MVP Kevin Durant and the OKC Thunder come to town on December 2nd, on December 12th it's Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Big Easy and on the day after Christmas on the 26th of Decemeber the champs arrive; as the San Antonio Spurs are still loaded and looking to pull off back-to-back titles.

An ESPN forecast panel has predicted the Pelicans to finish with a record of 39-43 this season and has them winding up in 10th place in the West.  I’m going to take the over on that win total as the team hopefully stays healthy and boasts the 3rd best player in the entire league in Davis. 


Here is a look at the complete Pelicans 2014-2015 schedule - home games are in bold:

PRESEASON
 
DATE OPPONENT TIME
Saturday, Oct 4 at Miami (at Louisville) 6:30pm
Monday, Oct 6 at Atlanta 6:30pm
Wednesday, Oct 8 Washington (at Jacksonville) 6:00pm
Tuesday, Oct 14 Houston 7:00pm
Thursday, Oct 16 Oklahoma City 7:00pm
Monday, Oct 20 at Washington (at Baltimore) 6:00pm
Thursday, Oct 23 Dallas (at Shreveport 7:00pm

REGULAR SEASON
 
DATE OPPONENT TIME
Tuesday, Oct 28 Orlando 7:00pm
Saturday, Nov 1 Dallas 6:00pm
Monday, Nov 3 at Memphis 7:00pm
Tuesday, Nov 4 Charlotte 7:00pm
Saturday, Nov 8 at San Antonio 7:30pm
Monday, Nov 10 at Cleveland 7:00pm
Wednesday, Nov 12  Los Angeles Lakers 7:00pm
Friday, Nov 14 Minnesota 7:00pm
Monday, Nov 17  at Portland 7:00pm
Tuesday, Nov 18  at Sacramento 7:00pm
Friday, Nov 21 at Denver 7:00pm
Saturday, Nov 22 at Utah 7:00pm
Tuesday, Nov 25 Sacramento 7:00pm
Friday, Nov 28 at Atlanta 7:30pm
Saturday, Nov 29 at Washington 7:00pm
Tuesday, Dec 2 Oklahoma City 7:00pm
Thursday, Dec 4 at Golden State 7:30pm
Saturday, Dec 6 at Los Angeles Clippers 7:30pm
Sunday, Dec 7 at Los Angeles Lakers 6:30pm
Tuesday, Dec 9 New York 7:00pm
Wednesday, Dec 10 at Dallas 7:30pm
Friday, Dec 12 Cleveland 7:00pm
Sunday, Dec 14 Golden State 5:00pm
Tuesday, Dec 16 Utah 7:00pm
Thursday, Dec 18 at Houston 7:30pm
Saturday, Dec 20 Portland 6:00pm
Sunday, Dec 21 at Oklahoma City 6:00pm
Tuesday, Dec 23 at Indiana 7:00pm
Friday, Dec 26 San Antonio 7:00pm
Saturday, Dec 27 at Chicago 7:00pm
Tuesday, Dec 30 Phoenix 7:00pm
Wednesday, Dec 31 at San Antonio 7:30pm
Friday, Jan 2 Houston 7:00pm
Monday, Jan 5 Washington 7:00pm
Wednesday, Jan 7 at Charlotte 7:00pm
Friday, Jan 9 Memphis 7:00pm
Monday, Jan 12 at Boston 7:30pm
Wednesday, Jan 14 at Detroit 7:30pm
Friday, Jan 16 at Philadelphia 7:00pm
Sunday, Jan 18 at Toronto 3:30pm
Monday, Jan 19 at New York 5:30pm
Wednesday, Jan 21 Los Angeles Lakers 7:00pm
Friday, Jan 23 at Minnesota 7:00pm
Sunday, Jan 25 Dallas  5:00pm
Monday, Jan 26 Philadelphia 7:00pm
Wednesday, Jan 28 Denver 7:00pm
Friday, Jan 30 Los Angeles Clippers 7:00pm
Monday, Feb 2 Atlanta 7:00pm
Wednesday, Feb 4 Oklahoma City 7:00pm
Friday, Feb 6 at Oklahoma City 7:00pm
Saturday, Feb 7 Chicago 6:00pm
Monday, Feb 9 Utah 7:00pm
Wednesday, Feb 11 Indiana 7:00pm
Friday, Feb 20 at Orlando 7:00pm
Saturday, Feb 21 at Miami 7:30pm
Monday, Feb 23 Toronto 7:00pm
Wednesday, Feb 25 Brooklyn 7:00pm
Friday, Feb 27 Miami 7:00pm
Sunday, Mar 1 at Denver 6:00pm
Monday, Mar 2 at Dallas 7:30pm
Wednesday, Mar 4 Detroit 7:00pm
Friday, Mar 6 Boston 7:00pm
Saturday, Mar 7 Memphis 6:00pm
Monday, Mar 9 at Milwaukee 7:00pm
Tuesday, Mar 10 at Brooklyn 7:30pm
Sunday, Mar 15 Denver 5:00pm
Tuesday, Mar 17 Milwaukee 7:00pm
Thursday, Mar 19 at Phoenix 7:00pm
Friday, Mar 20 at Golden State 7:30pm
Sudnay, Mar 22 at Los Angeles Clippers 12:30pm
Wednesday, Mar 25 Houston 7:00pm
Friday, Mar 27 Sacramento 7:00pm
Sunday, Mar 29 Minnesota 3:00pm
Wednesday, Apr 1 at Los Angeles Lakers 7:30pm
Friday, Apr 3 at Sacramento 7:00pm
Saturday, Apr 4 at Portland 7:00pm
Tuesday, Apr 7 Golden State 7:00pm
Wednesday, Apr 8 at Memphis 7:00pm
Friday, Apr 10 Phoenix 7:00pm
Sunday, Apr 12 at Houston 6:00pm
Monday, Apr 13 at Minnesota 7:00pm
Wednesday, Apr 15 San Antonio 7:00pm
    


 
 
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Steve: Payton turns it up a notch on Saints' last day at Greenbrier
For the final training camp practice in West Virginia, coach Sean Payton decided to turn things up a notch. The Saints went through goal-line drill which always fires up players due to its tough, in-the-trenches, physical style.

“I liked the intensity; I thought it was very good,” Payton said. “I like that it was competitive. Obviously there was some disagreement as to the one play (see below). But overall I was pleased with the tempo and how the guys handled it.”
 
I had a tough time deciding on the play Payton is talking about, but ultimately, I feel the offense came up short.  The offensive line however, would disagree. 

“Anytime we’re competing against the defense it’s a fun time,” offensive guard Ben Grubbs said. “I think we scored twice, they didn’t give us that last one. But the defense is a great defense; they have a lot of great guys over there. So, we knew that we had to bring it as an offense. They challenge us each and every day and we do the same in return, so it was a great period.”
 
In the end, the defense definitely flexed its muscles and dominated the day, allowing the offense to score just one touchdown as RB Khiry Robinson skirted outside left for the TD. 

Now the team gets ready to head back to Metairie, and while it’s been a nice change of pace, (especially weather-wise) everyone is looking forward to coming home. The Saints take on the Titans in the Superdome on Friday and then resume training camp at their facility on Airline Drive on Sunday.

It’s good to be coming back to the N.O., Who Dat Nation!
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Steve: Payton "not stressing" Drew Brees injury
The trumpets sounded from the top of the hills at the Greenbrier as Saints quarterback Drew Brees was back in pads for the first time since suffering an oblique strain.  Well, there really wasn’t that much fanfare as #9 still sat out of practice, but it’s definitely a good sign he is close to returning!  
 
“He’s progressing well,” coach Sean Payton said. "All those things are good signs, and each day he does a little more, in the training room and then out here.  We just keep working on the rehab and making sure, functionally, that we’re not stressing it to where it sets him back.”
How hard is it keeping Brees, who is a fierce competitor, off the field while the rest of the team continues to work?

“Well, he has that nature in him, but I also think he’s smart,” Payton added. “He understands that the type of strain he has is something that can reoccur if you're not careful and don’t let it heal properly.”

Veteran cornerback Champ Bailey was also back in pads but was held out of on-the-field work with the team.

We got a little more rain today during practice, but it was not as cold. Maybe the warmer temperatures made the difference as players responded with a better day of work then yesterday. “I thought it was better, just on both sides,” Payton said, “We will look at it on tape and try and grade each one, but I thought it was more competitive; definitely more lively.”
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Steve: Rainy day results in sloppy Saints practice
The weather gods did not smile on the media today as we were pelted with a cold, steady rain for the majority of this morning’s Saints practice. Over on the field, the football gods didn't exactly smile upon the Black and Gold either as they dropped passes and botched snaps.

“Overall, it was kind of sloppy. A lot of balls on the ground,” Payton said after today’s session. “Too much, really, for my liking or our liking. I thought the short yardage period was the same way, just O.K.  Probably one of our more flat practices since we’ve been up here. The weather's not that bad, we’re going to play in weather like this.”  

But is it at least a good thing to get a day like this in at training camp to see how your team responds?

“Yeah, because you try to have a wet ball drill day and it’s not the same,” Payton said. “This is more realistic. More than anything else you want to see how they respond and look we have to do a better job as coaches. We get that type of practice and that’s on me, everyone coaching as well.”
 


While Payton blamed himself and the other coaches, veteran QB Luke McCown knows that in the end, it's up to the players to execute when asked about the numerous center to QB exchanges that resulted in the ball being on the wet grass. 

“That falls on veteran leadership of the team of the offense. Specifically myself, Ryan (Griffin), the quarterbacks, and the center," McCown said.  “There’s going to be situations where we play in weather this year, and we’ve got to be able to handle that. This was our first taste of it through training camp, and there’s no excuse for it. We spent time after practice taking 15-20 extra snaps. No towels, no gloves, just getting the snaps.  It takes some getting used to but you’ve got to be able to do it. It was inconsistent today, and wasn’t good enough today, and hope it rains tomorrow so we can get better.”

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Steve: Saints rookies on the rise
Hallelujah, Who Dats! Saints preseason game numero uno is in the books; which means just 3 more exhibition games are left till the regular season. Most NFL fans complain about how the preseason games don’t mean anything and are a waste of time, but I look at them as public job interviews with teams.

Sure, some players might stand out in practice, but can they do it come game time? There were 3 Saints rookies that really stood out in the Saints 26-24 win over St. Louis. One is definitely no surprise, while another was a late round draft pick and lastly an undrafted free agent signing from a local university.

WR Brandin Cooks – 5 receptions for 55 yards and a TD / 2 punt returns for 5 yards

The Saints' 1st round draft pick didn’t disappoint after receiving a ton of praise at training camp. His 25 yard score was a Picasso. QB Ryan Griffin hit Cooks with a pass, the WR juked the Rams defender out of his jock, and waltzed into the endzone for 6. I think it’s time to call my guy in Las Vegas to lay a little something down on Cooks winning offensive rookie of the year.

OLB Ronald Powell – 1 tackle & 1 sack / 1 special teams tackle

Not the sexiest of stat lines, plus he did have a holding call, but the menacing 5th round draft pick did manage to disrupt the Rams passing attack and was able to get himself a QB takedown. Powell has really started to pick things up more, and I am seeing the potential the Saints saw when selecting him. He has the size (6-foot-3, 237lbs), speed, and athleticism to earn some playing time THIS season on the Fleur Di Lis D, as well as contribute on special teams.

RB Derrick Strozier – 1 rush for 5 yards / 3 catches for 23 yards / 1 kick return for 18 yards

You can’t tell me that this kid doesn’t look like Darren Sproles out there. I’ve been raving about the 5-foot-8, 181 pound back at camp and was glad to see the Tulane product show up in a game setting.  My biggest concern for Strozier is, does the team have room for him? The Saints have Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram, Khiry Robinson and Travaris Cadet as sure fire bets to make the roster at running back already.  But if Strozier continues to be a quick, elusive, and consistent producer he might force the team to make room for another weapon. 
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Steve: Saints rookie profiles - Brian Dixon
Sean Payton has made it clear since he got to New Orleans in 2006 that he doesn’t care where you came from - if you can play, you’ll be on his team. Cornerback Brian Dixon will be trying to do just that as the undrafted rookie from Northwest Missouri State University signed with the Saints after not getting selected in this year’s draft.

In his two seasons with the Bearcats, the 6-foot-0, 195 pound cornerback recorded 51 tackles, 6 interceptions and recovered a blocked punt and returned it for a touchdown.   

He didn’t receive an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine, probably due to a high ankle sprain that forced him to miss a few games last year. At his Pro Day, Saints defensive backs coach Wes McGriff saw Dixon run a 4.41 40-yard dash and a 30-1/2 vertical jump.

While Brian went undrafted, his brother Brandon was selected by the Jets in the 6th round. Coincidence that twin brothers Rob and Rex Ryan both liked what they say from the Dixon twins?  

The big knock against both Dixons is that they didn’t face a high level of competition in college.  We’ll get to see what he does against NFL caliber talent Friday versus the Rams.

Brian Dixon has been standing out on special teams for the Saints during camp, which will get you in good graces with head coach Sean Payton.  It will be interesting to see if he can crack the teams’ 53-man roster.  

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Steve: Saints rookie profiles - Brian Dixon
Sean Payton has made it clear since he got to New Orleans in 2006 that he doesn’t care where you came from - if you can play, you’ll be on his team. Cornerback Brian Dixon will be trying to do just that as the undrafted rookie from Northwest Missouri State University signed with the Saints after not getting selected in this year’s draft.

In his two seasons with the Bearcats, the 6-foot-0, 195 pound cornerback recorded 51 tackles, 6 interceptions and recovered a blocked punt and returned it for a touchdown.   

He didn’t receive an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine, probably due to a high ankle sprain that forced him to miss a few games last year. At his Pro Day, Saints defensive backs coach Wes McGriff saw Dixon run a 4.41 40-yard dash and a 30-1/2 vertical jump.

While Brian went undrafted, his brother Brandon was selected by the Jets in the 6th round. Coincidence that twin brothers Rob and Rex Ryan both liked what they say from the Dixon twins?  

The big knock against both Dixons is that they didn’t face a high level of competition in college.  We’ll get to see what he does against NFL caliber talent Friday versus the Rams.

Brian Dixon has been standing out on special teams for the Saints during camp, which will get you in good graces with head coach Sean Payton.  It will be interesting to see if he can crack the teams’ 53-man roster.  

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Steve: Saints make roster moves, prepare for Rams drama
Drew Brees remained out of pads in today’s Saints training camp practice, but did do some throwing as he is still nursing a strained oblique. Surprisingly, he has not been ruled out of Friday night’s preseason contest in St Louis yet.

Coach Sean Payton was asked why it would even be a question, since Brees has missed four straight practice sessions including the "Black & Gold Scrimmage."

“We just haven’t come out and said which way or another,” Payton responded. “We’re kind of monitoring it day by day. He’s feeling a lot better and we’ll see. Probably by tomorrow we’ll know, but I don’t want to say one thing and all of a sudden it be the other. I know he’s feeling better.”

READ MORE: Kristian: No decision on Brees for Saints at Rams
 
Payton did fill us in on a few roster moves: “Yesterday we waived Steve Hull wide receiver, Tryrone Ezel nose tackle, and linebacker Marcus Thompson,” Payton said. “We signed wide receiver Tobias Plamer and tight end Richard Quinn.  It puts us at 89 right now.”

There is a bit of drama for Friday’s preseason match-up since former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is now with the Rams. Williams originally received an indefinite suspension from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for his involvement in “Bounty-Gate”, but is now back and coach defense under good friend and St Louis head coach Jeff Fisher. 
 
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham knows one thing for sure, expect the blitz: “We were just watching, I believe it was three years ago, we played San Fran in the first preseason game, and it was like zero blitz four times out of nine. So you know it’s going to be great work for the quarterbacks, for the offensive line, for the tight ends, for everybody across the board. Thats who he (Williams) is and he brings it.”

 
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Steve: Saints rookie profiles - Ronald Powell
Looking at Ronald Powell, he is a guy that just looks like a football player. He is 6-foot-3, 237 pounds but I would swear his chiseled frame stands taller than some of these mountains here in West Virginia.
 
Now, size doesn’t necessarily make a player good (Martez Wilson), but Powell definitely has a ton of upside. He was the consensus #1 defensive end recruit in the nation coming out of high school in California and opted to come to the SEC and play for the Florida Gators.  

He played all 13 games as a true freshman in 2010 and tallied 26 tackles, three for loss and a sack with two pass breakups. Then in 2011 he started 12 games totaling 32 tackles, 9 for a loss and 6 sacks while forcing a fumble. The one game Powell missed was due to an upper-body injury he suffered against LSU and forced him to miss the Gator’s game against Auburn. The injury bug was just beginning.
 
Powell missed the entire 2012 season after tearing his left ACL twice. That's a brutal injury to deal with - twice - and something to be concerned about going forward.  He managed to come back in '13 to play in 8 games and managed 26 tackles, 7 for loss and 4 sacks.

Then, Powell strained his left hamstring running the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, and did not participate in drills or run shuttles and the 3-cone drill.  He did manage to run the fastest 40 out of any outside linebacker before getting hurt, registering a 4.56.

While Powell has a good shot at earning some playing time on defense this year for the Saints, he knows that special teams are still the key to getting on the field.

"It's a very important phase of the game, and I'm trying to be a part of that," Powell said. "I think it's all about 'want to.' Whenever you take pride in this game, it's something that I'm going to be good at because I want to do it, and I'm going to try my best to do it and get the job done."

The heart and skill are definitely there for Powell, now we’ll have to see if he can just stay on the field.

 
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Steve: Saints defense shines Tuesday; could Brees play Friday?
Saints head coach Sean Payton was asked if it’s safe to say Drew Brees, who missed another practice today with his oblique strain, won’t be playing Friday night against the Rams.

“I think like I said yesterday and the day before, we’re just going to take it day by day,” Payton responded. “So we’re not going to try to on Tuesday... we’ll just going to try and see where he’s at.  We’ll be smart though."   
 
Sideline reporter Kristian Garic noted to me as we watched practice that the Saints offense runs a lot differently with no Brees there, and boy, is he right. It’s hard to really come up with an offensive play of the day.  

Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was specially asked about how his run defense struggled through the first part of the "Black and Gold Scrimmage" but made adjustments and really contained the rushing and passing attack later on in the session.

“We got our butts handed to us the first week of training camp, we know that,” Rob Ryan said. “I think we’ve had 2 good days in a row. The biggest thing is getting your run fits, and that always takes a little bit of time. Once you get done, you’ll be better and I think that’s a work in progress. We’ve got to be better in that, and we will.”

Ryan also had some high praise for a few of his defensive players. On rookie linebacker Ronald Powell: “Joe Vitt and Brian Young are doing a nice job with him. He’s a young guy; he’s got a lot of talent. He hustles, he’s doing great on special teams as well. We’re really excited about his upside.”

On cornerback Corey White:  “We love him as an insider corner, but he’s done some good things outside as well.   He started for us down the stretch and did a really good job in those games.  We know he’s an ascending player and is going to be really good.”

On rookie safety Vinnie Sunseri:  “He’s really had a good camp. At the OTAs, he struggled a little bit just getting the information and playing the way we want to play, but he’s doing a much better job and is getting better every day.”
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Steve: Saints rookie profiles - Kasim Edebali
At 6-foot-2, 253 pounds, Kasim Edebali sure looks the part of a linebacker, and fills out his Saints uniform nicely. 

While at Boston College he appeared in 49 games with 166 tackles, 11 sacks, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and 15 pass breakups. Last year in his senior season, Edebali had 67 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles along with 2 recoveries and five pass break-ups.

He is actually a native of Hamburg, Germany and learned the game of football over there. Yes football, not futbol; even though Edebali was certainly into the World Cup as he proudly showed support for the eventual champions.
 
The Saints signed him after his rookie mini-camp audition back in May. NFL.com’s draft analysis describes Edebali as a high-motor, effort-based pass rusher who could warrant developmental consideration as a situational 4-3 rush end or stand-up 3-4 linebacker.  It goes on to say that while he is not a natural, physically gifted hunter, his football smarts, competitiveness and effort give him a chance.

Driven players are the type of guys you want on your team and Edebali certainly fits that bill.  Can he earn a spot as a starter or back-up at an outside linebacker?  Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan obviously saw something in Edebali to bring him to camp, and seeing him in action in the preseason will be a good gauge of what he can bring to this defense.

 
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Steve: Brees out again, Payton thinking about season - not Friday's Saints game
Saints quarterback Drew Brees sat out today's training camp practice as he is dealing with an oblique strain.  He worked out off to the side doing some running and stretching.
 

"We'll make sure it's something that can't get aggravated again", Coach Sean Payton said.  "When you look at what he does on a daily basis, with regards to torqueing his chest throwing the football, we just have to be smart it's calmed down.  So we'll see day to day."  

No Brees means more reps for the backups, and Ryan Griffin knows it's important for him to take advantage of the opportunity that's now in front of him.

"I mean every rep I can get, especially getting in there live with the ones and twos is great", Griffin said.  "I'm just learning as fast as I can, and I'm trying to improve."

While fans may be getting excited we are in "game week" for the Black and Gold since preseason game #1 is Friday in St Louis, Coach Payton has a different approach.

"I just finished telling the players, this game Friday is a month away", Payton said after practice. "What we're doing Tuesday, Wednesday, there's a lot of things were still trying to work on here that are unrelated to that preseason game.  I think we have to look at it that way. Obviously it will be our first opportunity to play a game, and there'll be a good chance for these guys to get reps, not only on offense and defense but in the kicking game."

 
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Steve: Saints rookie profiles - Timothy Flanders
Could the Saints have discovered yet another undrafted rookie free agent at running back with Timothy Flanders?  The team seems to have a way of finding talented tailbacks a-la Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson.

Flanders attended college at Sam Houston State and may just stand 5-foot-9, but is thickly built at 210 pounds.  He has great vision, allowing holes to develop and runs with a low center of gravity.

The running back spent 4 years as a Bearkat and wound up being the Southland Conference's all-time leader in rushing (5,664 yards) and touchdowns (66).
 
Flanders is also a reliable receiver out of the backfield, and can play special teams as a kick returner.

The two big knocks against him are that 1) he has small hand, and 2) tends to go down after initial contact. Longevity is also a bit of a question, since he carried the ball 999 times in college.

The kid is a tough, competitive, hard-nosed runner, but making the Saints squad will be really tough.  You have Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram, Khriy Robinson and Travaris Cadet as locks to make the 53-man roster.  That leaves Flanders and Derrick Strozier fighting for a practice squad spot, and so far, I’d put Strozier in the lead.

 
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Steve: Saints rookie profiles - Marcus Ball
While Marcus Ball isn’t technically a rookie, I am still considering him one.  The 6-foot-1, 209 pound safety comes to the Saints via the Canadian Football League.  He played for the Toronto Argonauts in 2012 & 2013 after spending his college days at Memphis.  
 
Lemme tell ya folks, this guy is stacked, packed and ready to attack.  He always stands out to me on the field because of his size and the fact that he looks like he would destroy you if he laid a lick on you.  

While playing linebacker in the CFL he racked up 142 tackles, 7 sacks, 4 interceptions (2 of which went for TDs) and 3 fumble recoveries.

Ball has been performing well at Saints training camp and came up with one of the plays of the day at the Black & Gold scrimmage.
 


He also ended the scrimmage with a sack.  Ball recently turn 27 years old and also contributes on special teams; a key for any undrafted player making a team. 

Despite making a lot of plays now, the safety will continue to have an uphill battle to make this roster which is pretty stacked at his position.  Ball is definitely on my radar though and one of the players I am on the lookout for this preseason.  


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Steve: Payton, Strief sound off on Brees' absence
Saints quarterback Drew Brees and head coach Sean Payton walked up and down the sidelines this morning before the Black & Gold scrimmage.  Brees had no pads on and a noticeable hitch in his step. 
 
“We ended up holding Drew,” Payton said. “In the AM practice yesterday, he strained his left oblique, and so we’ll take it day to day. We didn’t want to put him out there the day after, so that’s going to require just a little bit of rest. We’ll see how it is coming back on Monday and kind of treat it day to day. That’s the main reason he didn’t go.”

Also, Champ Bailey was again nowhere to be found.  Not on the field, not on the sidelines... he is missing in action, folks.  Coach Payton exploded yesterday when asked about the cornerback and had a similar reaction today when a reporter wanted to know if he’d be back soon or not.

“We’ll see, I don’t think it’s anything serious”, said Payton.  “It’s just a matter of making sure he’s healthy. I don’t want to put a time on it. You were here yesterday right?  So are you going to ask me again on Monday?!”

Yikes!

Anyway, back to Brees.  Offensive lineman Zach Strief spoke about #9 missing the scrimmage and was bit kinder when addressing an injury.

“I talked to Drew during the scrimmage,” Strief said. “Look, we’re not used to having Drew on the sideline, right? What a perfect time for him to have something that's just kind of  'achy.' You know, take some days off, take some time.  We know what Drew can do.”

Strief continued, “But I know it’s really hard for Drew to stand there and not be in pads, and not be with his guys, and not be running, and not doing those things he’s used to doing.  And it’s the same for us.  It’s weird not having him there.  We do a lot of hugging; want to make sure he’s doing ok. I’ve rubbed his obliques a few times, I’m sure that’s helped. No, but look, we want him to be healthy and we know that the great thing with Drew you know he’s going to be in the training room twice as much as anybody.  He’s going to get himself right, and he’ll be good to go.”

 
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Steve: Saints rookie profiles - Pierre Warren
It seems every year that the Saints are able to mine after the NFL draft and uncover a gem of a player that went unselected.  One rookie showing that potential this training camp is safety Pierre Warren.
 
“Every day my back’s against the wall. I gotta make a play. I feel like I have to do something to stand out from everybody else”, Warren says.

And that’s exactly what he’s done.  Whether he is creating a fumble, breaking up a pass, or making an interception, Warren is forcing the Saints to notice him.
 
The Jacksonville State product stands 6-foot-2, 200 pounds and led the Gamecocks last season with five interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and finished second on the team with 76 tackles. 

Head coach Sean Payton says, “He has good ball skills, and it appears to have good reactions and is someone who’s beginning to pick up what we’re doing. We just keep giving him reps, giving all these guys work. He’s one of those players, though, where the kicking game is going to be important.” 

And Warren is aware his role on special teams will be crucial for him to have a shot at making this roster.  He’s been working on the punt and kickoff return teams.

To make things even harder for this undrafted rookie out of a small school, the Saints are pretty stacked at safety between Jairus Byrd, Kenny Vaccaro, Rafael Bush, Marcus Ball, along with rookies Vinnie Sunseri and Ty Zimmerman. Good thing for Warren is that defensive coordinator Rob Ryan likes to use multiple safeties on the field at one time.

Side note:  He also makes a pretty badass Luigi.

 
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Steve: Ingram feels Saints have one of the best RB corps
Tomorrow is the Saints "Black and Gold Scrimmage," and the offense and defense are looking forward to competing against one another. 

“It’s pretty much the closest thing we can get to simulating a real game until the preseason,” Mark Ingram said. “I think it’s important to come out, everybody gets a feel of what it’s like to be actually go live. Defensive players wrapping up and taking players to the ground; us (the offense) breaking tackles, and just that live aspect of it I think is important.”

The Saints are really stressing being a physical team this coming season, and part of that is running the football. The team ranked just 28th in that regard last season and desperately needs to improve.  The problem isn't talent, as they are stocked at the running back positions. Ingram talks more about the main three, which includes himself, Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson.

“Every runner has their own personality”, says Ingram. “Of course you want to be a well-rounded, every down back, but every runner is different. Their running style, how they pick up blitzes, how they play the game.  I don’t think many teams have as deep of a running back corps as we do, and as good as a running corps as we do. I’ll put our corps up with anybody in the league.  The fact that we’re all working hard and we push each other to be better, that’s what’s going to help us have a lot of success this season as a run group.”
 
Another name in that mix is Travaris Cadet. His cutting ability looks a lot better this training camp; he is a dangerous receiver coming out the backfield, and also contributes on special teams in the return game and coverage unit.  He is a “Jack of All Trades” for the Saints.  

“The more you can do, the more you can bring to the table, the more you value stays up,” Cadet says. “The versatility is a major factor in what we do nowadays in the NFL. I feel like my versatility; me being in the backfield, me being able to split out, me being able to go down and cover kicks at a high level, me being able to return kicks at a high level is a great advantage that I can bring to the table.”
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Steve: Saints rookie profiles - Todd Davis
Linebacker Todd Davis was a late addition to the Saints roster after the team waived injured cornerback AJ Davis near the end of June. Even swap, Davis for Davis.

The LB comes from Sacramento State and totaled 351 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 30 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, three interceptions and one blocked kick in four seasons. 

As a senior, he notched 131 tackles and five sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions. He stands 6-foot-1, 230 pounder and played middle as well as outside linebacker for the Hornets. 
 
Some scouting reports call Davis tough and aggressive, while always going hard after the action. He plays with good lean, pad level, and flies around the ball; willing to sacrifice his body to make plays.

Davis’ downfall is his lack of quickness and speed. The 6-foot-0, 242 pound LB registered a 4.78 40-yard dash time at Sacramento State’s pro day. 

If Davis can find an NFL home it will likely be as a reserve since he is a one-dimensional run defender.  


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