The Calm Before the Storm

With the roster almost set, the New Orleans Saints will use training camp to determine best 53 players, depth chart
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The competition at back-up quarterback will be one of the most exciting in this year’s training camp. Many believe second-year player Taysom Hill could be Drew Brees’ successor, but he’ll be competing with free agent signings Tom Savage and rookie J.T. Barrett for the No. 2 spot.

The New Orleans Saints kicked off training camp this week with something they’ve lacked the past several seasons – confidence. The team went 7-9 for three straight seasons before winning the NFC South Division last year with an 11-5 record and coming a play away from playing in the NFC Championship. They enter the 2018 season with most of the team returning intact and appear poised to be among the league’s best teams. While the roster seems set for the most part, there are a few position races that will make this preseason interesting and fun to watch.

“We talk all the time of the responsibility and pressure to get the right 53 on the roster and in making sure that evaluation is daily and is thorough because that's what you worry about as a coach, is the wrong selection or a player who ends up not being on your team and having success somewhere else,” head coach Sean Payton said the first day of camp. “You don't want that. The most important thing we're doing right now, trying to find the right 53 and we're not trying to do it tomorrow or the next day but throughout this whole time before we get started.”

Quarterback Drew Brees proved once again that he is one of the best to ever play the position. He’s been an ironman for the Saints since he arrived in 2006 and should set the NFL’s career passing yardage record in the first half of the season. There is no doubt that he will be the team’s field general barring any casualties. The race behind him, however, will be intense. The Saints signed Tom Savage as a free agent in the offseason. It appears he has the inside track to be the No. 2 QB, but he is most noted for suffering a brutal hit which looked like it caused a seizure as he was lying on the field, his full body shaking. He will have competition from second-year player Taysom Hill, who played on special teams last year, and rookie free agent J.T. Barrett.

The backfield was powered by running backs Mark Ingram and Offensive Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara. Both are back to provide a one-two punch, but Ingram will miss the first quarter of the season due to a performance enhancing drug (PED) suspension. The battle for roster spots behind Ingram and Kamara will go through Terrance West, Shane Vereen, Boston Scott, Trey Edmunds, and Jonathan Williams.

Shane’s got a lot of versatility (and) is someone that we feel like (is) very good in protection, also he's a very good receiver. With Terrance, you see a physical runner. So, both of those players we felt like it would help us,” Payton said.

Familiar names dominate at the wide receiver position, too. Expect Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Jr., Brandon Coleman, and Tommylee Lewis to be joined by free agent pickup Cameron Meredith, who could compete for a starting position, and third round draft pick Tre'Quan Smith. If the Saints keep three tight ends, expect them to be Benjamin Watson, who returns to New Orleans after two seasons with the Ravens, Josh Hill, and Michael Hoomanawanui.

The Saints’ offensive line was solid in providing time and space for the rushing and passing games to excel last year, and the team should be able to count on more of the same. The line should feature players that were all drafted in the third round or better.  From left to right, the line looks like it will feature LT Terron Armstead, LG Andrus Peat, C Max Unger, RG Larry Warford, and RT Ryan Ramczyk, a 2017 All-Rookie team member. G/T Jermon Bushrod is back and could compete for a starting spot, while rookie Will Clapp could be a steal as a seventh-round pick out of LSU.

The Defensive line was stout last year and could be even better. LDE Cameron Jordan and LDT Sheldon Rankins were both first-round picks. They’ll likely be matched by RDT Tyeler Davison and RDE Alex Okafor. DE Marcus Davenport, the Saints’ 2018 first-round draft pick will push for playing time, along with Trey Hendrickson and Al-Quadin Muhammad. David Onyemata and Jay Bromley will challenge for time in the center of the line.

It seems like the Saints have had trouble with the linebacker corps since team won the Super Bowl after the 2009 season. Thank heaven that’s no longer the case. The team has talent and depth in SSLB Demario Davis, MLB A.J. Klein, and WSLB Craig Robertson, who will be supported by Manti Te'o, Hau'oli Kikaha, Nate Stupar, and Alex Anzalone. The unit has had to deal with the injury bug, but all appear healthy and ready to contribute.

“We're going to put the best guys on the field, the best three guys on the field and I think the good news here is we've got a lot to choose from and they're all good players, good leaders, smart and tough,” GM Mickey Loomis said at the preseason press conference. “I'm excited about the group, probably most excited about the group that we've been in quite a while.”

Once the weakest part of the team, the secondary may be the best unit on the team and one of the best in the league. Starting cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore, the 2017 Defensive Rookie of the Year, and Patrick Robinson are both former first-round draft picks, while both safeties, Marcus Williams – a 2017 all-rookie team member – and Vonn Bell were both second-round picks. Expect to see a lot from corners Ken Crawley, P.J. Williams, and De'vante Harris, and safeties Kurt Coleman and Chris Banjo, as well.

The special teams unit will again feature kicker Wil Lutz, kick returner Tommylee Lewis, punter Thomas Morstead and punt returner Ginn.

The final position for Saints fans to keep an eye on this preseason will be play-by-play radio announcer. Zach Strief, who retired in the offseason, will move from the field to press box as he takes over the mic from Jim Henderson. The former team captain may appear to be an unconventional pick, but he has a communications degree from noted journalism school Northwestern. He will join color commentator and former Saints RB Deuce McAllister in what may be the beefiest broadcast team in sports.

I think we've got a really high character locker room and high character in our building in general,” GM Mickey Loomis said at the preseason press conference. “We've got a good group of smart players, we had a pretty clean offseason and I hope it continues,”


Categories: The Pennant Chase