Preseason game #3 is the pinnacle of all exhibition games, since starters typically see their most action in the big dress rehearsal before the regular season. The Saints are 0-2 this preseason, but Coach Sean Payton and his players seem pretty confident the product on the field against the Steelers is going to look much different than the previous two weeks. The big reason? The team is actually game planning for Pittsburgh.
"We want to look sharp - we had not game planned at all for New England or Houston," said Drew Brees. "You practice against them a bit but then you are calling a lot of the same stuff that you are continuing to install and not so much based upon what they are doing to you. The third game is a time where, okay you are watching more film, you are able to fine tune a little more of what you are doing based upon how they are going to defend you. Again this is kind of like, hey we prepare in a very short amount of time to play this game as if it were a regular season game."
Alright, so this game is going to be more like what you see is what you're going to get this season. The first half of preseason game #3 will be the most important since that's usually how long the 1st teamers will play. Here is my laundry list for tonight:
Brees TD pass to ________
I don't care who gets it, I just want to see Drew Brees throwing a touchdown. Last week vs. Houston his 2 top targets did not play as Brandin Cooks and Wille Snead sat out. Hoping to see more of the FULL arsenal against the Steelers.
Some sort of run game
The run game wasn't good last year, averaging just 3.8 yards per carry. It hasn't looked any better so far this preseason. Last game, Luke McCown was the team's leading rusher with 25 yards on 3 carries. The 'backs and the offensive line need to get in sync.
Two preseason games so far… seven turnovers. That's unacceptable, even with some poor officiating adding to their troubles.
Defense harassing the quarterback
It's all about applying pressure, and the D-line has looked much more effective at that this year. Cam Jordan has been in beast mode this entire offseason, and Nick Fairley seems like a happy guy, motivated to play for the team he grew up rooting for. His presence in the middle is something the team has sorely been missing, and he will be looked at to do even more now that rookie Sheldon Rankins is out for a while after breaking a bone in his leg. Also, let's see if defensive end Kasim Edebali can build off his two-sack performance last time out.
NO WASTED OPPORTUNTITES!
Can't drop that pick six or almost make a great catch on 3rd and long. We need to see guys finish and MAKE the play; not almost come up with it.
After tonight's game, the roster cuts will be coming. The Saints have to trim the team down to 75 players by 3pm central Tuesday August 30th. Their final preseason contest is then Thursday September 1st against the Baltimore Ravens.
Saints head coach Sean Payton is very loose right now, despite his team being 0-2 this preseason. Maybe he's just being a seasoned leader, putting up a good front while his squad is struggling - or maybe he knows that we're going to witness a see a whole different Black & Gold performance in preseason game #3. But, Payton had a little fun and gave out a nugget of info after practice today that has the Who Dat Nation and fantasy football fanatics buzzing.
When asked if he wanted to temper expectations for rookie receiver Michael Thomas, Payton was quick to respond with; "No, I have high expectations for him. I think he's going to contribute early. I don't follow fantasy football... but shoot, I'd try to have him. I think he's going to do well."
That is quite the ringing endorsement for @Cantguardmike. It's been hard to rely on any Saints WRs in fantasy football since the ball gets spread around so much in the Payton/Brees offense. Hearing that Thomas should contribute early says to me that he's not having any issues with the playbook and that he has built some good chemistry and trust with his QB.
Thomas has flashed his "wow" factor often this offseason. Making a one handed catch will always draw oooohhhs and ahhhhhhhhs, but he makes it seem like a routine grab. The next step will be to see if Thomas can show off that skill & swag Friday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers. I know he's going to want to put on a good show in front of the home crowd for the 1st time. The bad news for fantasy GMs is that now that Payton has given Thomas such a strong stamp of approval, his name will be rising on fantasy draft big boards everywhere.
Exhibition game #1 for the Saints this year started out with a big bang when Drew Brees hit Brandin Cooks for a 37 yard play down the sideline; unfortunately Mark Ingram fumbled before the offense could get the ball in the endzone. That first pass of the game was Brees' only toss that night in New England. 1-1, 37 yards, and a 118.8 QB rating.
Will we see more of #9 Saturday night in Houston? It sure sounds like he'll be out there for a few more snaps.
"I expect to play a little bit more, but I don't think that's been decided yet," said Brees after Thursday's joint practice. "Or at least we haven't been told yet."
I think the biggest key to how much we'll see him is going to depend on when/if the team scores a touchdown while he's out there. Brees leading a TD drive seems like a pretty big box that needs to be crossed off the list.
He says "I hope we see our biggest improvement, from last to this week, be in regards to the way we play in the game."
The Texans are a good test for the offense, as Houston usually has one of the better defenses in the league. They finished ranked the 3rd best overall D last year only behind the Seahawks and the Super Bowl champion Broncos. Even without injured star JJ Watt, Brees knows he's in for a good workout in NRG Stadium.
"Romeo Crennel has a great scheme and I think those guys play it well. I think it starts up front. Their front seven is able to bring the pressure that they provide and the multiple looks they give you. They're very solid in the secondary all the way around," Brees said.
Wall to wall Saints coverage starts at 3 o'clock Saturday. Former Saints offensive lineman Steve Korte and Black & Gold insider Kristian Garic get things going on "Fans First Take." Then at 5pm, "Countdown to Kickoff" with Bobby Hebert & Deke Bellavia. The guys will carry you up to the start of the action at 7 o'clock. Hear the "Voice of the Saints" Jim Henderson, color analyst Deuce McAllister and sideline reporter Kristian Garic give you a local point of view from the game.
The Saints /Texans joint practice sessions began by causing panic among the Who Dat Nation. News spread like wildfire about cornerback Delvin Breaux being carted off the practice field in Houston after limping to the sideline. That punch to the gut was followed by offensive tackle Zach Streif and cornerback PJ Williams also taking a ride in the cart off the field.
The good news is that all three players had cramping issues due to the Houston heat. PJ Williams tweeted about his situation, then The Advoctae's Joel Erickson got word about the other two.
Not injured, jus a lil cramping from the humidity. A lot warmer here then then West Virginia!! #WhoDat
The Saints and Texans will practice again tomorrow morning, but that session is closed to the media and fans. We are still waiting to learn more about linebacker Stephone Anthony, who hasn't practiced since getting hurt in the 1st preseason game. He was at practice this morning; just not taking part. However, receiver Brandin Cooks was nowhere to be found.
The Saints and Texas square off in NRG Stadium Saturday at 7pm on WWL Saints Radio.
The Saints defense has certainly taken a few hits before the 2016 season has even started. Hau'oli Kikaha was entering year two with a ton of promise but is out for the season with an ACL issue. Rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins will likely miss 4-8 weeks after breaking a bone in his leg. Sophomore Linebacker Stephone Anthony got banged up in preseason game numero uno and has been out of practice since. Annnnnnd… veteran corner Keenan Lewis' hip issue is still... an issue.
There sure isn't a lot of good Fleur Di Lis D news; but we can at least get some positive vibes going by recognizing the growth of defensive end Kasim Edebali.
"That's a guy who's made strides in this offseason." said left tackle Terron Armstead. "He's a more experienced rusher and he's showing new challenges. He's incorporated some power into his speed rush. That's a guy I work with a lot, like off the field and he's improving."
Edebali is entering his 3rd season with the Saints after going undrafted out of Boston College in 2014. He was second on the team in sacks a year ago with 5 in 361 defensive snaps. "The Dream" made a large splash into the preseason pool by taking down Patriots QB Jimmy Garoppolo twice.
Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen has noticed a "jump" in Edebali's game. "I've seen a lot of progression out of him," said Allen. "He's worked a lot on his pass rush in the offseason. He studied a lot of the top rushers and kind of expanded his repertoire of moves with which he can rush the quarterback. But, I think when I look at his ability to play stout in the running game, that has been probably the most impressive thing."
Edebali paired up with Pro Bowl stud Cam Jordan seems to be the likely "starting" DE combo the Saints will use. Obum Gwachum and Davis Tull will still be in the rotation, but have not been able to separate themselves from Edebali to earn more 1st team snaps.
The return of preseason football causes an initial burst of excitement, but by the end of the 1st quarter tonight, fans' thirst for the pigskin will remain unquenched and they'll be longing for the regular season. This is a time where many players' NFL dream will either get derailed or fulfilled. With careers on the line, it's a lot more than JUST an exhibition. Here are a few names on the Saints training camp roster that are looking to prove their worth to permanently earn the coveted Fleur De Lis.
This group is pretty stacked and has been debated heavily amongst media members during training camp. The Saints will likely use 4 roster spots on this position and you can go ahead and write Mark Ingram and CJ Spiller's name down in ink. That leaves 2 more spots up for grabs between Tim Hightower, Travaris Cadet, Marcus Murphy and rookie Daniel Lasco.
Your top 3 wide outs are Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead and rookie Michael Thomas. I would say Brandon Coleman is the lead dog for the 4th WR spot, so who will be that 5th guy if the team does opt to keep that many? RJ Harris was on the practice squad last year and is duking it out with undrafted rookie Tommylee Lewis. Both have had their moments at camp and will definitely need to make their mark on special teams to secure a spot.
2 undrafted rookies have really stood out with interceptions and pass breakups. I think Ken Crawley and De'Vante Harris both have a legit shot at making the team since there is a huge question mark with Keenan Leiws. The 30 year old vet came off the PUP list and was on the field for one practice, but he's been M.I.A. for the last 6. Not a good sign for a guy who has been rehabbing after hip surgery that caused him to miss 10 games last season.
Kasim Edebali has really taken hold of the left DE pass rushing spot opposite Cam Jordan, but Obum Gwacham and Davis Tull aren't going to just waive the white flag. There is also veteran Darryl Tapp looking to earn a spot in a reserve role. He has been very vocal on the field as you hear him every practice session saying "Let's go D-line!" but the team isn't going to just hand over a spot on the roster for a motivational speaker.
The big rookie in the middle of the Saints defensive line, Sheldon Rankins, made a phenomenal play to kickoff joint practices against the Patriots. He managed to swallow up a screen pass thrown by Tom Brady and rumbled 30 yards to the end zone for a score.
"He's been adjusting well. He's a quick study, so he knows what to do", said Coach Sean Payton, who also added. "I don't know how many times he's going to get an interception like that. But of course he's athletic. I think it's (football) real important to him. That's a trait we saw coming out of college."
Rankins' pick got big cheers from the Saints' sideline, and from the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert. But the Louisville product knew better than to follow it up with any trash talk.
"I wouldn't want to tempt Brady like that," he said. "He's been doing this for a long time. I definitely wouldn't want to upset him and have him go out there and try even harder than he already does, so no, I didn't say anything to him."
Linebacker James Laurinaitis joked that the 6-ft-5, 305 lbs. d-lineman needs to work on his speed after watching him chug towards the endzone. Rankins though said he felt like a kid in 10th grade again.
"Back in my heyday I played a little running back. When the ball hit my hands I had a little flashback. 'Go score', and that's what I did."
The Saints are banking on the 12th overall pick to be one of the key building blocks to their new look, new attitude defense. He'll get his 1st chance to shine in a game situation Thursday at 630pm in preseason game #1 against New England.
His rookie season was lost due to a hamstring injury, but 3rd round draft pick PJ Williams is making up for the lost time so far during this training camp.
Today was another good showing for the 6 foot, 196 lb corner, as he undercut receiver Brandon Coleman on a crossing route and intercepted a pass in the end zone thrown by Drew Brees. The quarterback's angry yaup that followed echoed through the mountains of White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia.
Williams was been all over receivers during OTAs and mini-camp and has carried that into the practices at the Greenbrier. We've seen him line up at left corner and in the slot and the pass break-ups have been consistent.
"He's received a lot of work. He's healthy," says Payton of Williams. "He's receiving a ton of reps. I think he has pretty good football awareness. He's played not only outside but also in some nickel situations, over the slot. I think he's improving."
Williams has seen an added work load since Keenan Lewis has been out. Lewis did come off the physically unable to perform list the other day, but after just one practice has been M.I.A. for the last 2 sessions. If PJ continues to make the most of the opportunities he won't be the leader in the clubhouse for the spot in the nickel, but the #2 corner aside Delvin Breaux.
First the non-fun stuff. Receiver Brandin Cooks was nowhere to be seen today at Saints training camp. He went down hard towards the end of yesterday's session, but Coach Sean Payton made it clear he will not comment on any injuries right now.
"I'll hit injuries when we get to the start of the regular season. I've said that to you guys already, and I appreciate you asking. But I'm not going to cover injuries daily in training camp. We'll be here all day."
Also not on the field was corner Keenan Lewis, who just came off the PUP list. Payton did at least say that there was not a setback, it's just the way they are handling him. Fellow CB Damian Swann was in attendance, but in sweats - no full pads. Tight ends Michael Hoomanawanui and Garrett Griffin along with receiver Jake Lampman remained sidelined as well.
As for actual on the field action; undrafted receiver Tommylee Lewis is making his case to earn a spot on the roster. The 5ft7, 168 pounder is proving to be more than just a return specialist as he scored 3 TDs on the day. The first came on the ground while the other 2 were in the air. Lewis took a handoff from Drew Brees and stunned the defense by turning on the jets on the edge and easily scored from 10 yards out.
After that he flashed more of that speed on a deep ball thrown from Garrett Grayson.
Lewis's 3rd TD came on a reception from Brees in the red-zone drill and Coach Payton talked highly about him afterwards.
"Listen, he's one of those free agents now that every day, there's something he's done - one thing, two things to open your eye. He can run. I think he's tough. I think he has a lot of grit," said Payton who then added "he reminds me a little bit of David Patten. I was in New York when we had Patten, relatively early in his career. He played some Arena Football before he got signed by the Giants and then obviously went on and had a really good career. But he's done some really good things. He has opened some eyes."
Rookies Daniel Lasco and Vonn Bell each made plays on one another today. Bell go the best of Lasco first in the red-zone when the safety delivered a big hit that caused a lot of "oohs" & "aahs." But Lasco popped up and later on delivered a blow of his own that barreled over Bell.
Roman Harper was one of the 1st draft picks to begin the Sean Payton era in New Orleans. He was taken in the 2nd round back in 2006 and spent the first 8 years of his career as a member of the Saints before signing with the Panthers. But now after a 2 year hiatus, Harper is back in Black & Gold as his enters his 11th season in the NFL and can confirm that time really does fly when you’re having fun.
“Sean and I, we joke in reference to things,” Harper said. “It’s hard to tell age when time has passed when you look at me and another friend or me and Sean. Then all of a sudden I see his son; his son’s like 17 years old. I remember his son when he was 6. Or, when I see Drew’s son, his oldest one he was holding in the Super Bowl. He wasn’t even 1 years old and now he’s grown. He had his fake tattoos on the other day before we left for camp. It’s amazing how time flies and you just really try and cherish these moments. The relationships that you build through this game, this experience I don’t take that for granted anymore. Every day is a blessing out here and I’m going to make sure I enjoy myself and really enjoy this trip.”
With age comes wisdom which is one of the reasons the Saints brought back the 33 year old safety. Harper’s character and locker room presence are a welcome addition to a young defense trying to dig itself out of the cellar.
But make no mistake about it, he just isn’t back to be a mentor. Harper feels he can still contribute at the highest level. He was just part of a Carolina D that helped the team achieve a 14 win season and advanced to the Super Bowl; only to lose to an even tougher defense in the Denver Broncos.
So what’s it going to take to get the Saints defensive squad back to being a respected unit instead of one of the laughing stocks, like they were they past 2 seasons?
“We have to play fast defensively like I know we can. We’re all athletic, we all can run. And, when you get there with a violent attitude you’ll set the tone. That’s how you create the culture of which causes more and more winning and that’s what you’ve got to have.”
So do the 2016 Saints have ….IT? Harper is positive the Black & Gold are headed for better days.
“I know we’re headed in the right direction, I think we’re going to be really good this year."