NFC South: New Orleans Saints

Saints announce practice squad

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
12:00
PM ET
The New Orleans Saints announced their 10-member practice squad Monday. They signed safety Pierre Warren, cornerbacks Trevin Wade and Terrence Frederick, linebacker Todd Davis, defensive tackle Lawrence Virgil, receivers Brandon Coleman and Seantavius Jones, tight end Nic Jacobs, offensive tackle Tavon Rooks and guard Antoine McClain.

Of that group, McClain is the only one who wasn’t with the Saints in training camp. The 6-foot-5, 336-pounder was released by the Buffalo Bills over the weekend. He also spent time with the Baltimore Ravens and Oakland Raiders after joining the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Clemson in 2012.

The Saints are expected to hold a bonus practice Monday before returning to their usual weekly routine, with players off on Tuesday. Their first media access and injury report will be Wednesday.
Once again, the New Orleans Saints lived up to their reputation as a team that doesn’t care where you came from. They kept two undrafted rookies on the 53-man roster -- outside linebacker Kasim Edebali and cornerback Brian Dixon.

Last year, the Saints wound up with a total of seven undrafted rookies on their roster. And their recent history is littered with undrafted success stories, like running backs Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory and Khiry Robinson and outside linebacker Junior Galette.

Meanwhile, the Saints decided to cut one of their draft picks -- offensive tackle Tavon Rooks, who was drafted in the sixth round.

Rooks and many other youngsters who didn’t make the cut should be able to stick on the Saints’ practice squad, as well. Thanks to a new NFL rule, teams can now keep 10 players on the practice squad -- including two with at least two years of NFL experience. Teams can begin signing their practice squad once players clear waivers Sunday.

Among some of the other likely candidates to stick on the practice squad are safety Pierre Warren, cornerbacks Trevin Wade and Terrence Frederick, linebacker Todd Davis, receivers Brandon Coleman, Charles Hawkins and Seantavious Jones, guard Marcel Jones, tight end Nic Jacobs, running back Derrick Strozier and center Matt Armstrong.
Most significant move: Releasing cornerback Champ Bailey was the New Orleans Saints' biggest bombshell. But it ultimately shouldn't come as a shock. Bailey wasn't able to beat out fellow veteran Patrick Robinson for the No. 2 cornerback job. And for Bailey, it was probably a “starting job or bust” situation since he doesn't play special teams, and since the Saints are happy with their nickel/dime guys in safety Rafael Bush and cornerback Corey White. ... The big question mark is whether Robinson is the right choice. He had a nice camp at times, and the speedy athlete has shown as much big-play ability as anyone in the Saints' secondary during his turbulent five-year career. But Robinson has also battled injuries and inconsistency. If he can provide stability, New Orleans' secondary should he a huge strength.

Super loss: By cutting receiver Robert Meachem, the Saints now have only seven players remaining from their 2009 Super Bowl roster. They also parted ways with longtime veterans Lance Moore, Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Jabari Greer and Roman Harper this year. But the writing was on the wall for Meachem when younger receiver Joe Morgan came back so strong from a knee injury. The two of them have a similar skill set as standout blockers and deep threats. I expect Marques Colston, Kenny Stills, Brandin Cooks and Joe Morgan to be the Saints' four active receivers when everyone is healthy. And while Stills nurses a quad injury that could keep him out in Week 1, the Saints still have promising young receiver Nick Toon available.

What's next: The Saints still have one glaring need since they went with "none of the above" in their kicker competition. Neither Shayne Graham nor Derek Dimke was consistent enough to lock down the job. I'm perfectly fine with that, especially when you consider the experienced veterans who are now available (Ryan Succop, Alex Henery, Connor Barth, Jay Feely, Rob Bironas, plus a number of young guys who had solid camps elsewhere). The question, however, is whether the Saints can develop trust in a new guy quickly enough. The Saints have had an itchy trigger finger regarding kickers over the years. So what happens if the guy they choose misses once or twice in September? ... To make room for the next kicker, the Saints will likely place either fullback Erik Lorig or linebacker Khairi Fortt on injured reserve -- possibly with a designation to return.

Saints moves: Terminated contracts of CB Champ Bailey, OLB Keyunta Dawson, K Shayne Graham, FB Greg Jones, WR Robert Meachem, OT Thomas Welch. Waived C Matt Armstrong, CB Derrius Brooks, WR Brandon Coleman, ILB Todd Davis, K Derek Dimke, CB Terrence Frederick, WR Charles Hawkins, TE Nic Jacobs, G Marcel Jones, WR Seantavious Jones, OT Tavon Rooks, RB Derrick Strozier, NT Lawrence Virgil, CB Trevin Wade, S Pierre Warren, T/G Jason Weaver.
METAIRIE, La. -- It just got real.

The New Orleans Saints can finally start preparing for a game that counts -- and it’s a doozy. Week 1, on the road, against the division rival Atlanta Falcons.

The Saints will have more time to prepare for this matchup than almost any other opponent this season, with a bonus practice scheduled for Monday. But it’s not like they need it from a scouting standpoint. They certainly don’t need it from a motivational standpoint.

These teams know each other backwards and forwards, having battled for NFC South supremacy for the past six years, with mostly the same coaches, core players and systems in place.

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsThe Saints are eager to mix it up with the division rival Falcons in the regular-season opener.
Saints safety Rafael Bush, who almost joined the Falcons this offseason as a restricted free agent, came up with the perfect analogy on Friday.

“We play against these guys so much that it’s like playing your little brother or your big brother,” said Bush, who is friends with Falcons safety William Moore, among others. “You know each other very well, so it comes down to who’s the most detailed team and who makes less mistakes. And that’s pretty much been the outcome of these games. You now last year [the Saints’ win in Week 1], it could have been a tip away from losing that game. So it comes down to those small things.”

And like any good brotherly rivalry, Bush couldn’t resist throwing in some trash talk when asked whom he sees as the big brother in this scenario.

“We’re definitely the big brother,” Bush said. “I mean, we won twice last year. If you go against the overall record, I think the Saints are pretty much winning in that matchup.

“So they’re the little brothers, and we’re going to go in their house and we’re going to spank them like they’re our little brothers.”

Indeed, the Saints have won a whopping 13 of 16 against the Falcons since coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees arrived in 2006. However, players and coaches are always quick to point out how close these games always are.

Seven of the last 11 games have been decided by four points or less. Nine of them by eight points or less. Last year, the Saints won 23-17 at home in Week 1, thanks to Kenny Vaccaro's pass breakup in the end zone in the final minute. Then the Saints squeaked out a 17-13 win in the Georgia Dome in Week 12.

“When we play Atlanta, it oftentimes comes down to the final drive. It did in last year’s games, and I’m sure it will on Sunday,” Payton said. “So it comes down to that one specific play you need in short yardage, or that one defensive stand or offensive opportunity. You just don’t know when that’s going to be.”

Atlanta had a down year last season, finishing 4-12 thanks in large part to injuries. So a win for the Falcons could help them quickly start fresh in 2014 -- much like the Saints’ Week 1 victory over Atlanta did for them last year.

Payton laughed at the idea that the Saints want to avoid “letting Atlanta back in the race” since the race hasn’t even begun yet. But he said it’s obvious that they want to get off to a fast start.

And running back Pierre Thomas said the Saints know full well that Atlanta has the potential to make a drastic turnaround from last season.

“We know what they’re capable of doing. We know how big of a game it is, just like they know how big of a game it is. We know we’re going to get their A game,” Thomas said. “They give it to us every year and every time we play them. We know this is not going to be an easy game. This is going to be a tough, hard-fought game. These guys are going to be really fired up, the opener of the season, and we’re going to their Dome.

“We’ve got to be on our toes and well prepared for this team. Because it’s a whole new year, a whole new team. They’re going to be excited to get going.”

But all of that being said, as fiery Saints outside linebacker Junior Galette pointed out, the Saints are so amped to get this season rolling, the opponent is really an afterthought.

“It doesn’t matter if it was the Charlotte Bobcats,” Galette said. “Whoever’s on the field.”
NEW ORLEANS -- For a long time this summer, New Orleans Saints receiver Joe Morgan talked about taking "baby steps" in his recovery from a 2013 knee injury. He didn’t even begin practicing until training camp.

Ponder
Morgan
Lately, however, Morgan has been in a dead sprint.

No Saints receiver has stood out more during the past three games than Morgan, who caught another four passes for 33 yards in Thursday’s preseason finale against the Baltimore Ravens.

He appears to have gone from the roster bubble to possibly even starting in Week 1 if Kenny Stills is still nursing a quad injury.

Morgan didn’t want to get ahead of himself, saying only that he thinks he’s done enough to prove he belongs on a roster somewhere in the NFL, whether in New Orleans or elsewhere since the decision is out of his hands.

But he did admit that these past few weeks have felt great following a long rehab process. Morgan has never specified all the details of his knee injury, but he said it was more than just an ACL tear and required two surgeries.

"Honestly, I’m excited, I’m confident. I mean, it’s been a long year. It’s been really trying. I’ve been through a lot," Morgan said. "So to be able to come out and even do a little bit has been truly a blessing."

Morgan’s best catch Thursday came on a 16-yard crossing route during the opening touchdown drive. And in some ways, it was even better than one of his classic deep catches.

Morgan said he has worked hard to prove that he can be used on short and intermediate routes in addition to just using his speed to run deep (which became his signature while catching 10 passes for 379 yards two years ago).

Morgan is also a standout blocker, which is why coach Sean Payton stressed recently that the Saints don’t consider him a "one-trick pony."

"I think they were just trying to mess up my average a little bit," Morgan joked of his short and intermediate catches Thursday. "But to be serious, it is important. That's one thing I’ve been harping on since I’ve been here. ... That just shows I’m capable of running the entire route tree."
NEW ORLEANS – Lesson learned this preseason: Write off Luke McCown at your own peril.

It should have been known the veteran New Orleans Saints quarterback wouldn’t be so easy to get rid of. Maybe his 11 years spent bouncing around the NFL with five different teams should have been the first clue. He’s a survivor.

Luke McCown
Rogelio Solis/Associated PressLuke McCown has made his presence felt this preseason for the New Orleans Saints.
And by the way, that runs in the family (see: fellow journeyman Josh McCown, now a starter in Tampa Bay at age 35).

Despite spent most of the summer predicting that second-year pro Ryan Griffin would unseat McCown as the Saints’ backup this year, I’ve changed my mind.

The last clue was McCown’s terrific finish to a solid preseason during Thursday night’s 22-13 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. McCown started and played just one series -- leading the Saints to a touchdown on their opening drive. He was a perfect 4-for-4 for 29 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown strike to running back Travaris Cadet.

Griffin had a nice preseason, too (despite a so-so performance on Thursday). Griffin likely has a roster spot as the Saints’ No. 3 quarterback and a future as their backup.

But McCown kept dropping clues all summer that he wasn’t going to hand over his spot to the young guy. The 33-year-old has never considered himself a placeholder.

“I play to win, I compete to win, to be the starter,” McCown said. “As I said early in camp, I’m not just competing for a spot on this team, I’m not just competing to be the backup. I want to start. And obviously Drew [Brees] has got that pretty well under hand. But that’s the mentality you have to have.”

McCown’s numbers didn’t jump off the page this preseason. He completed 26 of 43 passes (60.5 percent) for 240 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. But he looked particularly good on the opening drives against Tennessee in Week 2 and Baltimore in Week 4. And he said he thinks his third summer with the Saints was probably his best. He said it’s only natural to get more comfortable, to develop a better understanding of the offense.

McCown said he first heard the classic NFL cliché, “You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse” from former coach Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay. And he took it to heart.

After struggling as a rookie starter with the Cleveland Browns in 2004 -- then getting traded to Tampa Bay after the season -- McCown learned quickly.

“Nobody has to announce, ‘Hey, there’s an open competition for this spot or that spot. You should have the understanding as a player that, ‘If I don’t perform today, they might look to replace me,” McCown said. “You never want to plateau or get to a point where you’re complacent or you’re content or you say, ‘Hey, man, I’ve done enough and I’m good now.”

McCown, who did get cut in favor of Chase Daniel during his first summer with the Saints in 2012, didn’t necessarily need any new inspiration to drive him after a decade spent learning that lesson over and over again.

But he said he was obviously inspired by watching his older brother Josh catch lightning in a bottle last year with the Chicago Bears. Josh thrived as an injury replacement for Jay Cutler before signing a lucrative free-agent deal to become the Buccaneers’ starter.

“Absolutely. How can it not (inspire you)?” McCown said. “I mean, the right situations don’t come along for everybody. And for my brother and myself, they’ve not come along very often for either one of us. But that’s not to knock our abilities or our capabilities of being a leader of a team. That’s just the way the cards have fallen for us. That’s been God’s plan for us.

“With that understanding we’re competitors, and we’ve continued to compete and look for that opportunity. And Josh got a great opportunity in a great situation, surrounded by great people last year. And look what it did for him. And it revitalized his career, if you will. But the point is that he was ready for that. Because he never got down, his mentality was right, he continued to work.

“And that’s not a lesson for me, that’s a lesson for anybody that’s gone through the ups and downs of a NFL career.”

NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Saints missed their chance to finish undefeated in the preseason for the first time in franchise history, losing 22-13 to the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday night inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Obviously that doesn’t matter a lick, considering quarterback Drew Brees and about a dozen other starters sat out the final exhibition game.

So what did matter? I can’t say that any jobs were obviously won or lost on Thursday night. But here are the clues that stood out most:
  • I still have no idea who’s going to win the kicking job. Derek Dimke got all of the work Thursday, including kickoffs. However, he missed a 54-yard attempt wide right that might have helped him lock down the job. Fortunately, a roughing penalty was called, giving him a second chance at a 49-yard attempt, which he made. … That’s kind of how it has been for both Dimke and veteran Shayne Graham all summer -- mostly good, some bad, nothing definitive.
  • Luke McCown sure looks like the front-runner for the backup quarterback job. He started again (McCown played ahead of Ryan Griffin in all four exhibition games) and led the Saints to a touchdown on the opening drive, going 4-for-4 for 29 yards, including a 3-yard TD strike to Travaris Cadet. Griffin played the rest of the game after that first drive, but he was pretty ordinary, finishing 11-of-21 for 126 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions.
  • Receiver Joe Morgan has been getting better every week and might have moved ahead of both Nick Toon and Robert Meachem as the fourth receiver. Morgan started and caught four passes for 33 yards (one of them a great catch down the field). I would say Meachem’s job appears to be in jeopardy, as he has fallen behind those other guys in the playing-time pecking order. But sure enough, Meachem made a fantastic 52-yard catch Thursday to help remind the Saints why they’ve always liked him so much.
  • I’m almost positive Jonathan Goodwin has won the starting center job over Tim Lelito, as Goodwin got the night off, along with many other veteran starters.
  • If anyone could have possibly lost a starting job Thursday, it might be cornerback Patrick Robinson. The Ravens picked on him quite a bit, chipping away with several mid-range gains. Baltimore virtually ignored fellow veteran Champ Bailey on the other side of the field. I think that battle will remain fluid, but it’s possible Bailey could inspire more confidence heading into Week 1.
  • Of the undrafted rookies vying for roster spots, outside linebacker Kasim Edebali continued to look the part. He started in place of Junior Galette and was in on at least three of the starting special-teams units. Edebali didn’t have any dramatic highs or lows, but it’s obvious the Saints are giving him a serious look. … Meanwhile, safety Pierre Warren made two great plays with an open-field run stop and a leaping interception on an overthrown deep ball. But he wasn’t as involved on special teams, so he’s a slightly longer shot to crack the roster. … Cornerback Brian Dixon had a nice pass break-up and tight end Nic Jacobs was in with the starters at times. But they’re also long shots.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees touched on severak interesting topics with Sports Illustrated’s Peter King earlier in training camp. Here are some highlights from the Q&A, which was published Thursday:
  • Brees
    Asked about his relationship with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being on opposite sides of the CBA negotiations and the Saints' bounty scandal, Brees paused before saying: “I mean, fine. I can’t say that I’ve talked to him in three years.” Brees said, “I’m not one to hold a grudge.” And he said Goodell has done some good things as a commissioner and he believes both of them want to leave the game better than they found it. But Brees said it’s clear that Goodell works for the owners, so players will often be on the other side of league issues.
  • When asked in general if he feels any lingering bitterness over the bounty scandal, Brees said, “No. No. Because I’m so positive and try to turn negative situations into positive ones.” He said he thinks the Saints are a better team and Sean Payton is a better coach after going through that hardship, comparing it to when he was benched by the San Diego Chargers early in his career. However, Brees said, “I will always be disappointed that I feel like I let Sean down [by going 7-9 that year]. We wanted to win so bad for him and the situation. But that’s the only thing that I still feel.”
  • Brees also reflected to his choice to play for the Saints instead of the Miami Dolphins in 2006, when Miami had more concerns about his surgically-repaired shoulder. “Who knows what would have happened in Miami?” Brees said. “[But] I got to play for Sean Payton. He’s been so instrumental in my development as a quarterback. He’s given me so much confidence in myself. He’s built this system around my strengths. Would that have happened in Miami? No, because there wasn’t a Sean Payton there.”
  • Brees talked more about this lofty goal of playing until he’s 45. He mentioned pitcher Nolan Ryan as an example of what he’s envisioning – as long as he stays healthy and keeps playing at a high level. “I don’t wanna just be bumming around this league at age 45.”
  • Brees said breaking all of the NFL passing records is lower on his list of priorities. When asked what he’d like to legacy to be, Brees said, “What I want people to say about me is that I was a great football player, that I cared about my teammates. I want people to say, ‘Man, I would have loved to play with that guy.’”

W2W4: New Orleans Saints

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
12:00
PM ET
Two of the NFL’s four undefeated teams in the preseason will square off Thursday when the New Orleans Saints (3-0) host the Baltimore Ravens (3-0) in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. It will be the final exhibition game for both teams.

1. Griffin still in play? Honestly, I'm not sure if the Saints’ backup quarterback job is still up for grabs. For most of the offseason, I predicted they’d go with second-year pro Ryan Griffin as long as he could prove trustworthy in the role. But the Saints have played veteran Luke McCown ahead of Griffin in every preseason game so far. So maybe they’ve already made up their minds to go with the more proven veteran. … Either way, Griffin will get one last chance to sway them against Baltimore. He’s expected to play most of the game, though coach Sean Payton hasn’t announced who will start. Payton also hasn’t announced whether or not starting quarterback Drew Brees will play.

2. Jobs on the line? There are a handful of starting jobs still up for grabs, including at kicker (Shayne Graham vs. Derek Dimke), center (Jonathan Goodwin vs. Tim Lelito), cornerback (Patrick Robinson vs. Champ Bailey vs. Corey White) and fullback (Austin Johnson vs. Greg Jones). Of that group, I’d bet the only one that can truly be influenced by Thursday night's performances is the kicker battle. It’s close enough that a bad night could doom either guy. As for the others, I’m guessing we’ll see Goodwin, Robinson and Johnson starting in Week 1, though any extreme highs or lows tonight will certainly be taken into account.

3. Room for undrafteds? My latest 53-man roster projection didn’t include any undrafted rookies – which would be rare for the Saints, who wound up with a total of seven on their roster last year. But as I wrote Wednesday, I think outside linebacker Kasim Edebali has a chance after the Saints cut some experienced linebackers this week. Others on the bubble include safety Pierre Warren, tight end Nic Jacobs and cornerback Brian Dixon. A big night from any of them – especially on special teams – could earn a roster spot.
METAIRIE, La. -- Jairus Byrd isn’t just the proverbial “last guy on the field” after practice.

The New Orleans Saints safety is the last guy on the field, on his knees, catching balls one-handed from the JUGS machine.

That’s how you get to become one of the NFL’s top ball hawks. That, and a quick first step and uncanny ball skills that Byrd’s new coaches and teammates have raved about since he signed a six-year, $54 million contract in free agency in March.

[+] EnlargeByrd
AP Photo/Chris TilleySaints safety Jairus Byrd works in practice to keep his ball skills sharp.
“I feel I have to be able to catch the ball just as well as a receiver does. When the ball’s in the air, it’s just as much mine as theirs,” Byrd said of his post-practice methods. “That’s the approach. You never know when it’s going to come. I have to have as good hands as they do to catch balls.”

Byrd, a three-time Pro Bowl selection during his first five seasons with the Buffalo Bills, ranks as the 20th-best defensive player in the NFL according to this year’s ESPN #NFLRank poll of 90 NFL analysts.

Byrd, 27, has 22 career interceptions -- the second most in the NFL in that span behind Asante Samuel, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The 5-foot-10, 203-pound Byrd also has forced 11 turnovers in his career.

That’s the skill set the Saints coveted most when they aggressively went out and signed Byrd within hours of the start of free agency.

The Saints defense was outstanding last year, surging from 32nd in total defense in 2012 to fourth in 2013 under new coordinator Rob Ryan. But the one area where they came up short was takeaways. It seems almost mathematically impossible, but the Saints forced only four turnovers in the last 11 games, including zero in the playoffs.

Enter Byrd, who becomes the Saints' highest-ranked defensive player on the #NFLRank list.

The hope is that Byrd will continue to provide those turnovers -- and that his thievery will spread throughout the defense, as turnovers are known to do.

"Once you get that first one, you just have this energy, almost like a shark," Byrd said. "You feel it. You go for the ball and it gets contagious. Everybody around the whole secondary is looking to get that turnover.”

Byrd’s start with the Saints was delayed when he underwent a summer back surgery to relieve a nagging disk issue, sidelining him for all of OTAs and minicamp.

But once he returned to full-contact drills a week ago, he quickly started living up to his reputation. He had two interceptions during his second full practice -- including a very impressive and deceptive pick against quarterback Drew Brees in 7-on-7 drills.

"Oh man, it was a ridiculous play," Brees said. "No. 1, I didn't feel like he would really reach it, but he did. To actually come down with it was a whole [different] story. Usually that ball just gets tipped and goes out of the back of the end zone, but it was an impressive play."

Saints coach Sean Payton and Ryan have lavished similar praise on Byrd, crediting his anticipation and instincts as well as his athletic skills.

“Typically with a safety like that, it starts with the first step and anticipation. You can have great speed and ball skills, but if your anticipation is a step slow, you find yourself a step away from a play,” Payton said.

Added Ryan: “There comes a time and point where every turnover is made where a guy has to just go make it. And he’s been great all through his career. I mean, he just has unique ball skills. And so did his father [longtime former NFL standout Gill Byrd].”
METAIRIE, La. -- Austin Johnson went undrafted out of Tennessee in 2012, when he signed as a linebacker with the Baltimore Ravens.

So needless to say, it’s a bit of a surprise that Johnson now stands as the New Orleans Saints’ likely starting fullback heading into this season. But that is indeed the case after the 6-foot-2, 240-pounder has taken advantage of his opportunity to replace injured starter Erik Lorig during training camp.

[+] EnlargeAustin Johnson
AP Photo/Sam RicheAustin Johnson helped his cause to start for the Saints with a TD in last Saturday's preseason game.
Johnson’s 3-yard touchdown reception last Saturday night against the Indianapolis Colts showed off his versatility as an agile pass-catcher and a powerful hitter. Johnson drove through linebacker Erik Walden to reach the goal line.

"I like to show that I can do it all and that I'm not like a stiff, not-able-to-move fullback,” Johnson said. “You know, I can run, I can catch and I can also block. So I try to show that throughout my game."

Johnson played fullback early in his career at Tennessee before switching to linebacker. So teams looked at him in both roles as he came out of college. When he didn’t make the Ravens’ roster, the Saints later signed him the following January with the intention of switching him to fullback. He spent most of last season on New Orleans’ practice squad.

Johnson figured his best chance to crack the Saints’ roster this year would be through special teams. But when Lorig suffered a leg injury a week into practice, he became the No. 1 fullback.

The extent of Lorig’s injury is still unknown, though he hasn’t even appeared on the sidelines during practice yet. And Johnson will still have to fend off 13-year veteran fullback Greg Jones, whom the Saints signed in the wake of Lorig’s injury.

But so far, Johnson has done his best to make the decision easy for the Saints’ coaches.

"I knew nothing was going to be easy. I knew that I was going to have competition, and when they brought in Greg, I just knew I needed to keep playing well. I knew they weren’t just going to give me the starting spot,” Johnson said. “We’re still competing for that spot. And I’m just trying to go out there and show them what I can do and hopefully give them enough confidence that I can play.”

Coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees certainly had enough trust in Johnson to target him on that touchdown play Saturday -- which is no small thing, considering it was Brees’ first drive of the preseason, and he was no doubt eager to cap it off with a touchdown.

"He’s done a great job all camp. Obviously Erik Lorig going down was tough, but Austin has stepped in and done a great job whenever called upon in whatever role, whether that be the fullback position or special teams, you name it," Brees said. "He's one of those lunch-pail guys, comes to work, ready to do whatever's asked of him. He’s done that very, very well."
METAIRIE, La. -- Count Champ Bailey among those who believe New Orleans Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis is too under-appreciated.

When asked where he thinks Lewis fits in with other elite corners in the league, Bailey said, "He's up there. It just takes you guys to start talking about him now."

[+] EnlargeChamp Bailey
AP Photo/Bill HaberVeteran cornerback Champ Bailey says he has high expectations for the Saints' defense this season.
"I don't understand why he wasn't in the Pro Bowl last year, why he wasn't an All-Pro," Bailey said. "He played like one. Matching up every week (against opponents' top receivers), he was the guy. He is a proven No. 1 corner. I just told him to keep his nose down, keep grinding, and people will start to take notice."

True to form, Lewis' best play of the preseason didn't even get proper credit last week, when he appeared to make a diving interception after tipping a deep ball away from Indianapolis Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton. The pass was ruled incomplete, because coach Sean Payton said he figured it would be ruled inconclusive either way. But it sure looked like a pick from the end-zone camera angle.

When asked if he credited Lewis with an interception after watching the film of last week's game at Indianapolis, Bailey said, "I credited it that night."

"It looked pretty clean to me from where I was," Bailey said. "The ref was five feet away from him and didn't get it. I don't know what happened, but in our room he got a pick."

Bailey, who missed much of training camp with a minor foot injury, hadn't chatted with the media in a while. So the longtime former Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins standout was peppered with questions on a number of topics Tuesday. Here are some of the highlights:

  • On whether his foot injury was related to the plantar fasciitis that kept him sidelined for much of the 2013 season: "Well not to get too specific, it was the same foot but it was a little bit different thing to deal with. It's encouraging, because I didn't want anything lingering from last year. I feel good about where I'm going."
  • On whether the injury has hurt his chances of being an opening-day starter: "I'm not really concerned about it. I haven't lost any sleep over it. The only thing that bothers me is being hurt, period. It has gotten in the way of me playing football. That's what I love to do. Regardless of how much I'm playing, I'm always out there competing like I'm the starter or going to be."
  • On his impressions of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, before he played for him and now: "All I knew was his brother, mostly. I've seen Rob before but never met him, never been around him. He's a character, but at the same time this guy knows football. It's proven; he's one of the best X's and O's guys I know in this league. He's going to make sure we're in the right places to make the right plays."
  • On how many defensive coordinators he's played for now: "Probably 13 maybe. Twelve, 13 something like that. I lost count. I had one of those guys twice in two different systems."
  • On safety Jairus Byrd: "I talked to him at the Pro Bowl a couple of years ago and I told him how much I wanted to play with him. Who would ever think we'd be playing here together? But we are, and I'm just happy to be a part of this team."
  • On cornerback Patrick Robinson: "Great football player. I've seen him do some things that some guys can't do. That guy is fast, quick, and he gets his hands on a lot of balls in practice. It's starting to pay off, all the work he's put in."
  • On whether the Saints are as good as last year's Broncos team: "I'm not sure. It's hard to compare. It's different. The thing is, last year we weren't good enough to win. I feel like we've got some pieces here to win it, we've just got to make sure we don't worry about too far ahead, just worry about what's in front of us. The rest will take care of itself."
Linebacker Kasim Edebali seemed like a considerable long shot to crack the New Orleans Saints roster at the start of training camp.

But the 25-year-old German native has never let long odds stand in his way.

Edebali moved to the United States at age 18, played two years of high school football, earned a scholarship to Boston College and eventually signed with the Saints this year as an undrafted rookie free agent.

[+] EnlargeNew Orleans' Kasim Edebali
AP Photo/Chris TilleyGerman-born Kasim Edebali, an undrafted rookie out of Boston College, has impressed this summer.
The 6-foot-2, 253-pounder has impressed this summer as a pass-rusher -- and more importantly, on special teams. And he suddenly seems to have a realistic chance to make the roster after the Saints released linebackers Victor Butler and Kevin Reddick on Tuesday.

Edebali insisted that he’s not getting caught up in the number-crunching as the final set of roster cuts looms at the end of the week. He said he just “attacks” each day, focusing on waking up and “trying to have the best practice I’ve ever had in my life.”

He said that’s been his approach ever since he first started seeing American football games on TV when he was about 10 years old.

“German sports channels, pretty much 24 hours a day they used to played soccer. Then they had football out there and I was like, ‘Wow, this looks amazing. I want to play this,’” recalled Edbali, who started out with five years of flag football before he was allowed to start tackling. He eventually played on an all-star team that included Indianapolis Colts first-round draft pick Bjoern Werner.

Edebali then came to America after he graduated high school because he wanted to pursue football. He needed two more years of high school in New Hampshire as he learned to speak more fluent English. Then he went to Boston College, where he racked up 11 career sacks (9.5 of them as a full-time starter last year).

Along the way, Edebali also got to meet his father and his “American family” for the first time.

Edebali was raised by his mother, who is from Germany. He never knew his father, an American G.I. who had been stationed overseas.

“When I was 21 years old, he saw me on TV,” said Edebali, who said he never had any hard feelings about waiting so long to meet him. “This is how life went. I wasn't mad at him or anything. It was great meeting him and my whole American family -- my grandma. I have a half-sister and a half-brother. It was a special moment, another chapter in my life. I feel blessed about that."

Now in New Orleans, Edebali has also added a new big-brother type to his life in Saints linebacker Junior Galette -- a similar-style player who took the same path as an undrafted rookie.

Galette was signing Edebali’s praises the other day as someone who has stood out both through his play and his passion.

Edebali has had two sacks this preseason. And more important for his roster chances, he was on the starting kickoff and kick return units during the Saints’ game against the Indianapolis Colts last Saturday.

Saints coach Sean Payton mentioned Edebali first when asked about a group of young linebackers hoping to crack the roster, describing him as “a guy that has been productive and around the ball.”

Saints Camp Report: Day 22

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
7:10
PM ET
METAIRIE, La. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New Orleans Saints training camp:
  • Saints kickers Shayne Graham and Derek Dimke both stumbled a bit during a windy practice Tuesday. Based on the unofficial consensus from media members, they each missed two field goals out of an estimated seven attempts. Neither kicker has been consistent enough to lock down the job this summer, but they’ve both been solid in preseason games (the only miss coming on Graham’s missed 33-yard extra point in Week 1). And coach Sean Payton continued to speak highly of both contenders. “I say this: Both of them are going to be kicking this season. I think other teams see us as a place that has a kicker possibly that is good enough to play for them,” Payton said.
  • Another position battle seems close to being decided. Center Jonathan Goodwin has continued to take snaps with the starters in practice all week after starting each of the past two preseason games. Goodwin has played very well this summer, calling it the best camp he’s had in 13 years. But Payton hasn’t conceded anything yet in Goodwin’s battle against second-year pro Tim Lelito. “We will see where that’s headed, but we are getting pretty good consistent play (from both), and that is encouraging,” Payton said Monday.
  • Cornerback Patrick Robinson had a nice practice with a pass breakup in the end zone during team drills and a stripped ball in 7-on-7, among other highlights. Payton revealed that it was a hamstring injury that had limited Robinson earlier in camp. But he said he’s encouraged by his progress. Robinson certainly looks like the front-runner to start opposite Keenan Lewis in Week 1 -- though veteran Champ Bailey has also looked solid in his return from a foot injury.
  • The offensive standout during Tuesday’s practice was probably receiver Joe Morgan, who made a diving catch of a deep pass from Drew Brees that hung up in the air during a two-minute drill late in practice. Morgan sure looks like he has a good beat on a roster spot this year and could be on the field in Week 1 -- especially if Kenny Stills remains out with a quad injury.
  • Stills, safeties Rafael Bush and Marcus Ball, linebacker Khairi Fortt and fullback Erik Lorig did not participate in Tuesday’s practice, though Ball made his first appearance in nearly a week as he watched from the sideline. Cornerback Trevin Wade was limited. Receiver Marques Colston appeared to wave himself out during a set of team drills late in practice, then he chatted with a trainer before watching the rest of practice. He didn’t appear to be dealing with anything significant, though.
  • That’s a wrap for training camp. The Saints are scheduled to hold a walk-through that’s closed to the media Wednesday before playing their final preseason game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Thursday night against the Baltimore Ravens.
Most significant move: Releasing linebacker Victor Butler was a small surprise, but a huge shame. I was one of many analysts who thought the pass-rush specialist could have a huge impact when he joined the New Orleans Saints last year, following defensive coordinator Rob Ryan from Dallas. Unfortunately, Butler missed all of last season with a torn ACL, then he missed three weeks of training camp this year with an ankle injury. In the meantime, the Saints continued to develop two other breakout pass-rushers in Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette. Hopefully Butler can get healthy and get another opportunity somewhere, because he’s an energetic, well-liked guy who showed a ton of promise before the injuries.

One-year wonders: I was equally surprised to see the Saints release second-year linebacker Kevin Reddick, who had been a mainstay on all of their special teams units last season and this preseason. But it goes to show how much depth the Saints have at linebacker. This probably guarantees that guys such as Keyunta Dawson and Kyle Knox will make the team and maybe open up a spot for undrafted rookie Kasim Edebali. ... Cornerback Rod Sweeting also got cut after spending all of last season on the roster as an undrafted rookie. And 2013 sixth-round pick Rufus Johnson Jr. got waived as well -- less surprising after both had fallen behind in the pecking order throughout the summer.

What’s next: Two of the most compelling battles that will be decided by week’s end are at backup quarterback (Luke McCown vs. Ryan Griffin) and kicker (Shayne Graham vs. Derek Dimke). It’s starting to look more and more like McCown will win the backup job. If that happens, the Saints will probably keep three quarterbacks since they like Griffin’s long-term potential. ... I don’t anticipate any more veteran surprises, but you can never rule them out. If I had to make my final roster projection right now, I’d have four guys battling for the last three spots (McCown, Edebali, safety Marcus Ball and defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick).

Saints' cuts: LB Victor Butler, LB Kevin Reddick, DE Rufus Johnson Jr., CB Rod Sweeting, S Ty Zimmerman, DE George Uko, WR Andy Tanner (injured), QB Logan Kilgore, TE Travis Beckum, OT Manase Foketi, OT Ty Nsekhe (injured).

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