by Steve Geller, firstname.lastname@example.org,posted Aug 29 2015 10:14AM
Sunday, August 30, 3 p.m. on 870AM/105.3FM
Line: Saints (-3.5) Over/Under: 44
The team some think is a QB away from being a serious Super Bowl contender to represent the Atlantic Football Conference comes to the Superdome on Sunday. The Houston Texans finished 9-7 and in 3rd place in the AFC South a year ago. That is impressive considering the guys they had under center were: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum, Ryan Mallett & Tom Savage. Thank your lucky stars Who Dat Nation that New Orleans has Drew Brees.
The Texans offense finished ranked 17th in the NFL (5th rushing / 24th passing), while the defense ranked 16th (10th vs. the run / 21st vs. the pass).
Defensive end JJ Watt has shown us he can do just about anything on or off the football field and was in the conversation for league MVP. He did win defensive player of the year after tallying 78 tackles, 20.5 sacks, 1 interception that he ran back 80 yards for a TD, 12 forced fumbles, 37 passes defended, a safety and a blocked kick. But wait there is more! The 6ft5, 289 lb. stud also caught 3 passes for a total of just 4 yards, but the result of each catch was a TD.
Unfortunately Watt, defensive tackle Vince Wolfork, and corner Jonathan Joseph likely won't play in preseason game #3. None of them have played in the Texan's exhibitions yet, and we should not expect that to change. It means we should see Dr. Drew & Krewe operating to precession and dissecting the Texans D with ease.
The Texans offense will also not be operating at full capacity be without star running back Arian Foster, who is dealing with a groin injury and some offensive linemen who are nicked up. In case you haven't head, the Saints defense has not managed a sack thru 2 preseason games. The pass rush is a MAJOR concern for the Black & Gold heading into this season and better show us something in this contest.
Brian Hoyer "The Destoryer" has been named Houston's starting QB for now, with Ryan Mallett as the #2. Neither is going to strike fear in the hearts of a defense and the Saints unit could use a big confidence boost as they get ready for the regular season opener.
A player I am anxious to see for the Texans is former LSU Tiger Alfred Blue. With Foster hurt, Blue has a chance to take over as the top running back for the Texans.
In his rookie season last year Blue rushed for 528 yards with 113 receiving yards and a combined 3 TDs. He also contributes on special teams a blocked a punt, then took it to the house for the score against the Redskins.
Houston is a solid ballclub, but without Watt even taking the field they are not the same. Expect both the Saints 1st team offense and defense to have their way with the Texans and roll to the Black & Gold's 1st preseason win.
The coaches and players say they still aren't looking at who is going to make the 53 man roster yet - but I sure am. A position group that has fascinated me before camp even started was wide receiver. Brandin Cooks and Marques Colston were locked in at the teams' #1 and #2 options, but after that it was a mixed bag of six young, unproven guys and three veterans fighting for one of the 3 or 4 reaming spots.
One of those vets is Josh Morgan, who is about to begin his 8th season in the NFL. He just turned 30 years old in June and spent time with the 49ers, Redskins and the Bears. His numbers aren't eye popping, as Morgan has 209 career catches for 2,558 yards and 12 touchdowns. Those stats don't scream that he'll be a big threat, but could play a similar role to what Robert Meachem served when he came back for a 2nd stint in Black and Gold.
I could see Morgan carving out a role in this offense thanks in large part to his blocking prowess, which Sean Payton always mentions when talking about him, as well as his short to intermediate catching ability.
"I feel good. I feel like I make every play that comes my way," says Morgan. "I feel like in practice you get more comfortable with the offense, and you learn things on the go. You're supposed to make mistakes in practice, but in the games I feel like I make every opportunity that comes my way."
I don't know about EVERY opportunity. He did have a reception punched out in the game against the Patriots that resulted in a turnover, but knows it's something he can learn from.
"Just getting it (the football) high, getting it higher," Morgan said about the play. "I had it too low and I was trying to set up another move to beat the 2 guys that were in front of me. But it's always the guy behind you that gets the strip. So just getting it higher; holding it tighter."
Right now, in my projections I have Josh Morgan making the Saints 53 man roster. He has definitely outperformed the likes of Seantavious Jones and Nick Toon, plus adding another guy who has "been there, done that" besides Colston is vital. If I had to guess, I would pencil Morgan in for 20 catches, 300 yards and 2 touchdowns. Add in his blocking ability and I feel those contributions are worthy enough to be the Saints #4 wide receiver.
There weren't many positives to take away from the Saints defense last year. The unit failed in just about every way possible, finishing 31st overall in the NFL. Trying to pin the blame on one player, position group or even a coach is impossible.
One of the biggest letdowns was the Black & Gold pass rush, which seemed incapable of applying pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and in turn further exposed a secondary that was lacking top notch talent. In 2013 the Saints managed to rack up 49 sacks but saw that number plummet to 34 a year ago.
A player most thought would have big impact in that area was defensive end Akiem Hicks. He was entering his 3rd season in the NFL and was dubbed by a handful of NFL analysts as a prime candidate for a "breakout" year. Instead, he saw a drop in the number of tackles and sacks while being a non-factor in most contests.
He entered training camp this year looking much slimmer after dropping 20 pounds, but wound up getting nicked up the final week in West Virginia. Hicks says that he and the team knew all along that he would play in preseason game #2 against the Patriots though. Is it safe to assume that it was nothing major bothering him; was him missing practice just precautionary?
"I couldn't even say precautionary," Hicks responded. "It was just more so taking care of what we had to take care of."
Hicks definitely took care of his weight as mentioned. He is now 325 pounds and was asked if the lighter load has added to his quickness.
"I felt fast at 345 to tell you the truth," he said. "But, there is definitely a difference and it's something that I focused on this offseason making sure that I came back. We had a lot of things that didn't go right last year and you look at yourself and you try and figure out what things weren't perfect for you. So thought that was one of the things I could improve on myself and that's we did."
The Saints really need Hicks to realize his potential this season. He might have come up short last year because of an ankle injury which ultimately landed him on injured reserve at season's end. Also motivating him will be the fact he is entering a contract year. Living up to being New Orleans 3rd round selection in 2012 could see his bank account balloon rather than his waistline.
Of the two Saints first round draft picks this year, the one drafted 31st overall has looked more like the 13th overall selection. Linebacker Stephone Anthony has made a much easier transition to the pro game then offensive tackle Andrus Peat; but at least Peat has shown improvement.
Anthony has come out the gates looking like the stud the Saints defense has been in desperate need of. He stands 6ft2, 236 lbs. and helped spearhead a Clemson defense that finished ranked 1st overall in college football last year. In his senior season Anthony tallied 70 tackles, 10 for loss, 2 sacks, 1 interception and 1 forced fumble.
If you ask him how he thinks he is doing in practice, the 23 year old will say OK, but points out that there is always something to improve upon. It almost sounds like Anthony doesn't want to be told how well he is doing.
"Not right now," he said while laughing. "Not right now, man. It's a process and I'm doing my best to enjoy the process. I'm trying to grow a little bit every day. Find one thing to get better and I'm just trying to chop the wood."
I got a good laugh when the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert asked the rookie after practice if he envisions himself getting on teammates to generate more of a pass rush. You know, fire up his teammates to get after the quarterback.
"I think there is a time and place for everything," the rookie responded. "You know, you got big Kevin Williams who's played 13 years, so you definitely don't want to step on his toes and Cam Jordan... but there's a time for that and whenever the time presents itself I think I'll be ready to step up and say some things like that. But, I've got to earn a little more respect."
Smart kid, he knows his place right now. You cannot expect a newbie, even a first round draft pick, to start barking orders at guys who have been in the league or on the team for a number of seasons.
That's not to say that he cannot earn the needed respect this season. Anthony's play has impressed everyone at training camp and could very well wind up being the Saints starting middle linebacker come week 1 of the regular season. As a matter of fact I'd be willing to bet he is.
There was a lot of talk heading into training camp about how Brandon Coleman had a great opportunity in front of him to seize one of the Saints top wide receiver positions. Well, he has definitely delivered and I would say he has assured himself a spot on the 53-man roster, but he is taking more of the modest approach.
"I'm happy, but I've got a long way to go", Coleman says. "I'm just trying to stay consistent, do my job and just keep putting days together that I can be proud of. Just put my name on it."
To me, Coleman has put his name on the 3rd receiver spot and has make the offense look good lining up with Brandin Cooks and Marques Colston. There's a lot to like about the triple-C combo. You have size, speed, reliable hands and a proven vet. Does Coleman hope that's how they line up come game 1 of the regular season?
"Yeah…I hope so," he replied. "I am trying to just do what I can. Just prove myself; that I know the position. That I can go out there and play fast and get the opportunity to go out there and make plays."
The Saints were able to land the big 6'6" pass catcher as an undrafted free agent. It was a bit of a surprise the Rutgers product did not get selected on draft day, but teams shied away from him due to a knee injury.
"It's been a development process," Coleman stated. "I spent most of last year on the practice squad just developing and learning the system as well. I think that this time around; the whole summer, OTAs, minicamp, training camp, right now I just think it's that time to take that next step forward."
He'll have another chance to take that step forward Saturday night when the Saints take on the Patriots in the Superdome for preseason game #2. While he has stod out at practice, Coleman was only targeted twice in the 1st preseason game against the Ravens.
"Yes, that was really us," coach Sean Payton responded. "I talked with him afterwards. I think you'll see him. He is healthy and there was no specific rhyme or reason. Obviously there are a lot of guys at that position, but he has been playing too well and we feel like you'll see him get a lot of work this week with the ones. You'll see in the game Saturday with the ones."
Well instead of being off on Tuesday, the Saints have switched things up and opted to take a break Monday instead. It's the final week of training camp in West Virginia as the ballclub prepares for preseason game #2 Saturday night in the Mercedes Benz Superdome against the Patriots.
Speaking of the defending champs; they will be taking part in joint practices with the Black and Gold on Wednesday and Thursday this week at the Greenbrier. Both coaches and players really enjoy getting to go up against another team because it is a different look for the offense and defense. The competition level also gets ramped up another notch because you get to face an actual opponent instead of fellow teammates.
Sean Payton was asked if he's learned a thing or two from Pats head coach Bill Belichick over the years.
"Yeah, I would say this - I've said this before, back in 2006 - in any business, you would study closely who is having success? And they have been a team we study to see the sustained power they have had year in and year out has been pretty impressive," replied Payton.
"Any time we get a chance to work with them, 2010, 2012, again this year, it gives us a great opportunity. I know this, I know how he is going to handle it with his players and we felt coming off the times we've worked together it has been real positive. We've already gone through the practice schedule for next week. We kind of have it all laid out. We will go in the morning both Wednesday and Thursday. I think when you can be around a Super Bowl champion, as much as they have won; I think it is a great opportunity for a team like us and certainly for me as a head coach."
We will wait and see if Tom Brady is present for the joint practices. There is an appeal meeting scheduled Wednesday about Brady's four game suspension for his involvement in under inflated footballs, but the judge has ruled that Tom does not have to be in attendance and can go to practice. We'll see how that drama unfolds.
Saints side note:
ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported on Saturday that Saints running back C.J. Spiller had arthroscopic knee surgery, but that the expectation is he will be able to return for Week 1 of the regular season. Spiller disappeared from training camp right before the Black and Gold scrimmage and hasn't been seen again. Our very own Bobby Hebert says he recalls seeing the running back walking with a bit of a gimp after doing some special team drills, but didn't think anything of it at the time. Sean Payton DOES NOT like to be asked about injuries and will give you the company line very time that he does not have to talk about them during camp, and will not. His response when asked about Shefter's report was short...
The Saints won't be the only New Orleans team holding their training camp at the Greenbrier in West Virginia. The Pelicans announced they are joining the Black and Gold in the Mountain State.
"Once again I'm really delighted to be able to bring an exceptional experience to the deserving people of West Virginia," said Chairman and Owner of The Greenbrier Jim Justice. "For West Virginians to be able to enjoy seeing first hand practices of an NBA team within our state is very rewarding to me. I have special thanks to Mr. Tom Benson, Mickey Loomis and all within the Pelicans and Saints organization that have played an instrumental part in making this happen."
The Pels will hold their media day on September 28 in New Orleans prior to leaving for White Sulphur Springs. The birds training camp will take place September 29 through October 2.
"For the past two years, Mickey has raved about The Greenbrier and all it has to offer," said General Manager Dell Demps. "Coach Gentry and I visited The Greenbrier last week and it is better than I could have ever imagined."
This will be the first time the team has moved training camp outside of New Orleans since 2009 when it took place in Lafayette, La. New head coach Alvin Gentry is excited about the venue.
"When Dell and I visited The Greenbrier last week, I was blown away by their first-class facilities, amenities and staff," said Gentry. "The Greenbrier provides all the accommodations we need to have a productive training camp and also gives our players a great opportunity to grow closer together off the court. We can't wait to bring our team there and get ready for the upcoming season."
I for one do not understand why a basketball team with new top notch facilities on Airline Drive in Metairie needs to hold training camp somewhere other than at home. The team does not practice outside in the heat.
Now, if the Pels were still working out at the Alario Center I could stomach the decision. That place is not suitable for a pro team. But, everything is brand spanking new at their gym here. Why are both the Saints and Pelicans so eager to get out of the state?
Only time will tell to see if this helps a ballclub that earned the 8th seed in the tough Western Conference a year ago. If the birds do flop in Gentry's first year, you know one of the first things you'll hear is that they are a "country club team."
It's time to bask in the glory off football once again as the Saints hit the battlefield for the first time this season to square off against Baltimore! OK, I'll take it down a notch or two - after all this is just preseason game #1 and really won't be a true test of where the team is at, since some starters may not even play, and the ones that do will see limited… and I mean limited action.
The Ravens finished 10-6 in 2014 and earned a wild card spot in the AFC playoffs. They wound up beating the Pittsburgh Steelers 30-17 in the first round but lost a lost a 35-31 heartbreaker to the New England Patriots in the divisional round.
Baltimore had a nice balance of offense and defense last year, ranking in the top 8 in both yards and points allowed on defense, while finishing 8th in yards gained and 12th in points scored on offense.
Quarterback Joe Flacco is coming off his best statistical season, setting career-highs in passing yardage (3,986) and touchdowns (27). He could see a boost in those numbers as the team used its first two draft picks on more offensive weapons.
The first pick was used on receiver Breshad Perriman, who is raw but loaded with upside. Then the team snagged tight end Maxx Williams in the 2nd round. This could be the last time we see receiver Steve Smith, who recently announced his plans to retire at season's end. He spent the good part of his first 13 years in the NFL terrorizing New Orleans with the Carolina Panthers.
Many of Flacco's passes will also go to Justin Forsett. The running back took over for Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce and never looked back, finishing the year with 1,266 rushing yards and 44 catches.
The Ravens also boast a quality offensive line. All five starters from last year will return, which is huge, given how important continuity is for blocking units.
Over on defense, the team is no longer with Haloti Ngata and Pernell McPhee. Ngata was traded to the Lions, while McPhee left for Chicago. The Ravens have lost key talents before, and they managed to survive. The strategy regarding Ngata's departure is to give Timmy Jernigan more playing time. He was chosen in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft, and looked very strong in his rookie campaign.
Jernigan will start next to Brandon Williams, a massive, run-stuffing nose tackle, and Chris Canty, who was released and re-signed this offseason for a cheaper price.
Though McPhee was not a starter he was a key piece because he allowed either Terrell Suggs or Elvis Dumervil to take a breather. McPhee was one of the better third pass-rushers in the league, and the depth he provided might be missed if Baltimore can't find an alternative. Right now, the top options are Courtney Upshawand fourth-round rookie Za'Darius Smith. Ideally, this won't be a huge issue if both Suggs and Dumervil stay healthy, as the two combined for 29 sacks last year. The rest of the linebacking corps is pretty stout. C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith are both coming off nice years.
The weak point of Baltimore's defense last season was easily the secondary, which struggled to cover anyone once Jimmy Smith went down with a Lisfranc injury. Smith is fully back and was sorely missed. He'll start across from Lardarius Webb, whose play dropped off but is still a solid vet. Fourth-rounder Tray Walker was added to the roster, along with Kyle Arrington who was signed over from the Patriots to strengthen the nickel spot.
The safety position is in much better shape. Will Hill was an excellent addition in the middle of the 2014 season. He was able to provide a major upgrade over the ineffective Matt Elam. He'll likely start next to Kendrick Lewis, who was on Houston's roster last year. Lewis has had an up-and-down career, but he just put together a nice season in Houston, so he could be a nice addition.
One of the undrafted free agents gems the Saints might have unearthed this year is linebacker Henry Coley. He stands 6-ft-2, 245lbs. and recorded 76 tackles, 12.5 for a loss, and 8 sacks last season for the University of Virginia and was also was credited with 6 passes defended.
He was part of a group of players trying out for the Saints back at rookie minicamp in May and caused us to check our rosters numerous times at the onset of training camp because he was making plays. Now the #52 has become engrained in our minds as Henry Coley.
"Man it was a struggle, it was a struggle," says Coley. "You know, I was with the Ravens the week before the Saints minicamp and I had some kind type of cleats that I lost a lot of skin off my feet. So, coming in I was still trying to heal from the week before."
"I just came in here and had the mindset that I'm not going home," Coley continued. "Then I ended up getting signed by the Saints and the blessings just been coming ever since."
Instead of tearing up his feet in Saints camp, Coley has been tearing up the practice field. He was asked where he feels more natural and comfortable… run defense or pass coverage?
"My whole life my nickname has been Henry "The Hammer" Coley, he said smiling. "Thumping is my game. I like the physical play, the physical nature of football, so run stopper of course, but they're definitely making me a pass coverage linebacker out here."
With rookie Stephone Anthony along with veterans David Hawthorne and Dannell Ellerbe locked in as part of the inside linebacking corp that really only leaves one spot left. Ramon Humber is also in the mix and has also been having a solid camp; plus his special teams play is invaluable.
"The Hammer" is going to have to really impress this preseason to have a shot at making the roster. A spot on the practice squad seems more of a likely landing spot for Coley.
by Steve Geller, email@example.com,posted Aug 11 2015 7:03AM
Was last season's 7-9 showing from the Saints an anomaly or a sign of things to come? Unfortunately Who Dat nation, the voice of the Saints, Jim Henderson paints a picture of more doom and gloom instead of a silver lining.
"I think we'd all agree that we as fans, we as media, as members of the origination; we've become a little bit complacent and a little bit used to the success we've had," Henderson said on Sports Talk. "It's kind of hard to remember back to '04 and '05 after the wave started in '06 and the Super Bowl and everything."
"I think we're about to get a dose of reality again for this football team and this origination," Henderson continued. "I hope not for the fans' sake. It's hard to build a consensus based on the first week; but if you asked me what's impressed me so far, I would say the weather and I couldn't really say anything else."
The "sloppy" showing at the black & gold scrimmage did not help to alter Henderson's view but rather enforce it. The team had issues just lining up properly. Now, it was the 2nd and 3rd teams which had the issues, but it still remains as concern because either players are not getting "it" or the coaches are not doing a good job of getting across to them.
The Saints 1st preseason game will be a big test to see if the issue of substitution errors has been addressed and the message has been received. The team will get practice Tuesday before traveling to Baltimore for Thursday night's game against the Ravens.
Let's all hope the team gives Mr. Henderson something more to be impressed by then the cool, mountain air of West Virginia.
Like former Saints wide receiver Lance Moore, Willie Snead came to New Orleans as an undrafted free agent that was originally picked up after the 2014 draft by Cleveland. After being let go by the Browns, Snead spent last season on the Panthers practice squad and was eventually signed to the Saints practice squad December. Now in his first training camp with the Black and Gold, the receiver has gone from a longshot to make the ballclub to having a realistic chance since he has shown off his great hands along with superb route running. Once again, very similar to former Saint Lance Moore.
"The obvious comparisons are that he's someone that functions well in the slot, I think he's a good route runner with strong hands, and he's smart," said Coach Sean Payton. "Those are traits that Lance Moore has had. But man, Lance played a ton of good football for us so the jury is still out and he still has a ways to go."
Snead is from Ball State college where he is only the 2nd player in school history to have 2 1,000 yard receiving seasons. The 5-ft-11, 195lb WR also left the school with more 100+ yard games then anymore in its history.
We always hear that the more you can do, that makes you more valuable to a team, and Snead is showing he is more than just be a receiver. Special teams are any players best shot at making a roster and he has just started to field punts in practice. Snead has taken most of his reps with the 2nd and 3rd team offense, but that could serve him well come Thursday night in Baltimore. Backup QBs Luke McCown and Ryan Griffin should see the bulk of the snaps and have a good comfort level with him. Although, even Drew Brees has connected with the 2nd year pro, who may not have blazing speed but it still somehow difficult to cover.
Unlike safety Jairus Byrd, I wasn't too concerned about Marques Colston starting Saints training camp on the physically unable to perform list. The Quiet Storm is as reliable as they come in the NFL and has built a great relationship with QB Drew Brees. Colston was asked about being slowly worked into things after coming off the PUP and missing the first 2 days of practice.
"I've been able to get more and more team reps and obviously it's a little different than just running routes on air," said Colston. "Timing is coming back and conditioning is getting where it needs to be."
The Brees/Colston connection looked liked it hasn't skipped a beat at the Black & Gold Scrimmage. Brees went 6 for 7 on the opening drive and capped it off with a 3 yard fade back to Colston in the corner of the endzone. Colston put a sick shimmy move on Stanley Jean-Baptiste that just froze the 2nd year corner allowing for the easy score. Since big red zone target Jimmy Graham was shipped out of town, could the 6-ft-4 sure handed Colston be in store for more looks inside the 20?
"Yeah, I think somebody's got to take those touches, but I think they'll get spread around pretty evenly."
Colston has always been modest and a man of few words. He simply lets his play do all of the talking. My bold prediction for this season is that #12 will lead the Saints in receptions. Yes, I'm aware his catches have gone down in each of the last 3 years, BUT that was when Brees had Graham as his big, comfy security blanket. I expect Drew to look to old reliable Colston this year since that while the wide receiver group may be young and talented, they are lacking experience and haven't built the equity of trust with Brees.
Coach Sean Payton says they are being smart with Colston in practice and feels his conditioning and weight is good. The receiver has admitted he needs to get more mental reps now because he cannot take the pounding of training camp day in and day out anymore. Even though we likely we won't see much of Colston in preseason play, he is anxious for an actual game even if it is just an exhibition.
"Yeah, I think it's that point of training camp where you are definitely looking forward to it," replied Colston. "Just really comparing the body of work that you've put together over the first 2 weeks; taking it on the road and seeing what you've got."
The Quest Storm and the rest of the Saints roll into Baltimore 8/13 for preseason game #1 versus the Ravens.
When getting to talk to Saints rookie Hau'oli Kikaha I always get a feeling of Zen. He is very soft spoken, but you can sense the passion for the game in his words. I imagine him as a young samurai now in the dojo of Sean Payton.
He was drafted in the 2nd round by the Black & Gold out of Washington and was asked how he thought the first week of camp went.
"It's gone pretty well", Kikaha replied. "I wouldn't put a grade on it but I've done everything they've asked me to do. Fixed errors, made corrections to things, done things well off the bat; so there's a lot of a positive, good things going on."
Kikaha led the nation in sacks last season with the Huskies tallying 19. Getting to the QB is an element the Saints were in desperate need of before the release of Junior Galette; so does the 6-ft-3, 236 pounder think he could earn a starting role right away of this defense?
"I'm excited to help impact this team as much as they'll allow me to and as much as I will earn", said Kikaha. "And just being able to step on the field with these men will be exciting in itself come game day."
Kikaha has been doing well in camp as he transitions from a college defensive end to an NFL outside linebacker. Does he mind the position change at all?
"What's first and foremost for me is whatever coach has for me on that particular play, and that is it". Kikaha responded. "Doesn't matter if he wants to put me at defensive tackle or safety; that's what I've got to do on whatever play he tells me to do it."
Obviously the competition level is amped up a bit in the pros, so getting by NFL offensive linemen presents a much larger challenge. Kikaha knows he needs to work on his pass rushing moves in order to be able to duplicate the success he had on the college level.
"I do have to develop myself as a player and everyone around myself also", says Kikaha. "You can't just get by with athletic ability at this level, it's a whole different mind game. You can't just rely on speed or strength anymore."
With the Black & Gold scrimmage set for Friday, we should get a better sense of Kikaha's skill level because it will be in an actual game situation instead of just drills.
"I'm really excited, we get to go all out tomorrow and really see what we're made of," Kikaha said smiling. "And that's always nice to put ourselves through a test like that. I'm just excited to get out there and hit."
Talking to the media after practice is likely the last thing players want to do, but it was nice today to be greeted by a huge smile from outside linebacker Kasim Edebali. The 25 year old is entering his 2nd season now in the NFL after a productive role for the Saints a year ago in a very limited capacity. Edebali recorded 22 tackles with 2 sacks last season in Black & Gold and has been one of the standouts this training camp.
His motor always seems to be running on overdrive and was asked about what he did in the offseason to take his game to the next level.
"First year I was a little nervous, but I've been talking to the veterans like Ben Watson... ask for advice, what to do to get to the next level," said Edebali. "Then just focus, train hard, my pass rush, conditioning, strength, core strength. Did a lot of stuff this offseason and it's been working."
Edebali's path to the NFL is different and interesting. He grew up in Germany, but wound up being recruited to play prep football in New Hampshire and then attended Boston College University. Edebali first fell in love with the game when seeing it on television, but how old was he before he actually got to suit up and play?
"I was like 10 years old, but in Germany it's not as organized as it is in the states", he said. "We don't have high school football, but then I came to the States when I was 18 and the rest is history from there."
Edebali went undrafted in 2014 but the Saints snagged him off the market right away in the open market. He played in 49 games at Boston College and recorded 166 tackles, 11 sacks, 24.5 tackles for a loss, forced 4 fumbles, and recovered 3. He was a co-captain his senior year and you get a real sense this kid loves the game.
With a big sack contributor like Junior Galette out of the way this year, is Edebali hoping to earn a bigger role on this defense in 2015?
"That's why you play the game!" Edebali replied. "You want to be the best at what you do. I know you start at the bottom, but you want to keep working, keep getting better. It's a long process, but I'm very confident that in the future I could really be a guy who really helps this team out to win football games."
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.
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.
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."
Brandon Browner : fortunate to be playing alongside Keenan Lewis. We've been good buddies since our college days pic.twitter.com/E5i3MiMJFg
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.