NFC South: New Orleans Saints

Saints Camp Report: Day 6

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New Orleans Saints training camp:
  • The intensity cranked up Thursday as a few fights nearly broke out during practice. The biggest skirmish was between running back Khiry Robinson and linebacker Curtis Lofton that actually had to be broken up by quarterback Drew Brees. The two briefly wrestled and went to the ground, with Lofton getting a hold of Robinson's hair before Brees stepped in. Some offensive and defensive linemen also got into a few shoving matches, including one with defensive end Cameron Jordan and offensive tackle Tavon Rooks. “He was wearing a white jersey … and got in the way,” Jordan deadpanned. “Today we just decided to set that tone early on. Even in walk-through it got a little rowdy with the defensive line going through bags. It was just one of those days that (players) should have their mind right, and if they didn't have their mind right, they got their mind right.”
  • Cornerback Patrick Robinson continued his outstanding performance in camp. He made a diving interception against Brees when he cut in front of intended receiver Andy Tanner -- believed to be Brees' first pick in team drills so far in training camp. Robinson also had an aggressive pass break-up in team drills. My two biggest question marks this year were Robinson's health and his confidence level. Both look great, and his athleticism has never been questioned. So he indeed has a shot to push veteran Champ Bailey for the No. 2 cornerback job.
  • Stop me if you've heard this before, but receivers Brandin Cooks and Nick Toon also looked great during practice. Both have looked terrific throughout camp. Cooks made a series of nice catches -- including a diving snag of an overthrown ball by quarterback Logan Kilgore at the end of practice. Toon's highlight was a deep catch from Brees behind Bailey and safety Kenny Vaccaro. Although Toon did have one drop Thursday (a rare miscue this camp), coach Sean Payton singled him out after practice unsolicited, saying he's having a “fantastic camp.”
  • The same three guys remained out with injuries (Ben Grubbs, Kenny Stills and John Jenkins). Payton still declined to get into any specifics on Grubbs' injury but said he should be back within a day or two. “We are just resting him. He's working through a few things.” Bailey was not in attendance during the Saints' afternoon walk-through, but it's unclear if that was injury-related. He didn't appear to get hurt during practice. No update was available since Payton only talks after the morning practice.
  • The Saints have another normal schedule Friday, with an 8:50 a.m. ET practice followed by a 4:30 p.m. walk-through. They will hold a scrimmage Saturday at 8:50 a.m. before taking a day off on Sunday.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. – If anyone is having more fun at training camp than the New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees and Sean Payton, it’s hard to tell.

Brees tweeted out a picture Thursday of what he described as Payton’s “payback” -- a Rogaine logo on Brees’ jersey in place of the usual Chevron sponsorship logo on each practice jersey.

It was a shot at Brees’ receding hairline (the one part of Brees’ body that admittedly doesn’t make him feel like a 25-year-old). It was also redemption for the Chevron patch that was sewn onto Payton’s T-shirt before the first practice.

That competitive spirit is also on display after every practice when the quarterbacks get together for various inventive passing challenges. They have become must-see viewing, especially now that Brees has begun narrating them for the team’s website.

Payton and the offensive coaches occasionally join in – like he did for this recent competition inspired by the former television show, “American Gladiators.”

Others have involved throwing deep balls from a nearby balcony or replicating a skeet-shooting trip they took when they first arrived in West Virginia.

“It’s a group effort,” Brees said when asked how they come up with the challenges. “But we try to incorporate something that happened in practice that day. For example, we had a quarterback competition out there that involved throwing on the run. We missed a couple of throws on the run [in that day’s practice], so obviously it’s something we’ve got to work on. But we can have fun with it too, so we made a competition out of it, set up some bags and throw at them. There’s going to be a winner and three losers.”
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. – The guy generating the most buzz at New Orleans Saints camp this summer has been rookie receiver Brandin Cooks – and rightfully so.

But a player who quietly seems to be drawing the same level of excitement within the Saints’ organization is second-year left tackle Terron Armstead.

The supremely athletic big man has looked outstanding at times, especially during run-blocking drills on Thursday. And from talking with folks, I think the expectation is that he could not only be solid in his first full season as a starter – but ultimately develop into a really special player.

[+] EnlargeTerron Armstead
Michael Shroyer/USA TODAY SportsDrew Brees said that the confidence of Terron Armstead, center, is ideal for a left tackle.
Coach Sean Payton agreed with that assessment, though he didn’t get carried away.

“Yeah. We’re not ready to put him in Canton yet. But he’s very athletic, and I would agree. He’s got a lot of the traits that you would look for at that position,” said Payton, who was impressed with how quickly Armstead matured after being thrown into the starting lineup in Week 16 last season.

“I think in a short period of time, Carolina [in Week 16], and then on to the next week, you saw a rookie player begin to emerge,” Payton said. “And by the time we were into the postseason, you began to see a player that was playing with confidence. And now clearly you’re seeing that. Now he knows what to do. He’s very athletic. And to his credit, he has made the adjustment and done a great job of competing. So that’s been a good sign.”

Armstead (6-foot-5, 304 pounds) admits he is most natural as a run-blocker after making the transition from Arkansas-Pine Bluff to the NFL last year as a third-round draft choice. And that has been evident on several plays.

But he has also looked pretty good in one-on-one pass-rush drills, even though another dynamic athlete, Junior Galette, has been giving him all he can handle.

And I’ll credit colleague Gus Kattengell for pointing out Armstead’s role in one of the biggest highlight plays of camp – Cooks’ screen-pass touchdown earlier in the week. On replay, you can see that Armstead helped clear Cooks’ path with a dominant seal block against safety Rafael Bush.

“You love everything you see. Not only just his talent, but you see it in his eyes,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “You see guys that when there is a big challenge ahead of them, you sense some fear, you sense some nerves. What I see with him is intensity and confidence, and that is what you love to see in a left tackle, ready for any type of challenge.”

Other players have noted Armstead’s confidence level, as well, including recently signed veteran center Jonathan Goodwin, who said, “You come in here and see his demeanor, he doesn’t look like a second-year player.”

And I feel like I’ve seen a much more confident version of Armstead in media interviews, dating back to the beginning of the offseason.

But when I asked Armstead about that Thursday, he said “comfort level” might be a better term than confidence.

“I’ve always had confidence. I wanted to start right away in Week 1 last year,” Armstead said, even though he admits he probably wasn’t ready.

“It’s definitely night and day [from the start of last year’s training camp],” said Armstead, who added that the game quickly started to slow down for him with each passing start he made at the end of last season.

“The terminology from Drew my first snap, I could’ve swore he was speaking Chinese or Spanish or something,” Armstead cracked.

Armstead’s athletic ability has always been “off the charts,” as Goodwin put it. He ran the fastest 40-yard dash time by an offensive lineman in the history of the NFL scouting combine (4.71 seconds) and registered a vertical leap of 34.5 inches.

But Armstead is hardly relying on that.

Right tackle Zach Strief said Armstead’s work ethic is impressive. He watches a ton of film and picks the brains of veterans. Armstead even reached out to former Saints Hall of Famer Willie Roaf (a Pine Bluff native) to talk shop and pick up some pointers this summer.

“He’s still very young,” Strief said. “But all the things you’d say that you want to see him do, he’s doing them.”
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees looks around the field and the locker room this summer and recognizes more new faces around him than ever before.

But Brees said as much as he misses longtime teammates like Lance Moore and Darren Sproles, he also feels rejuvenated by developing that “same trust and ESP” with new, young teammates.

Brees is certainly excited by his newest toy, rookie receiver Brandin Cooks, whom Brees has been connecting with for some big plays on almost a daily basis. But he also mentioned young receivers like Nick Toon and Kenny Stills the other day when he was asked what keeps training camp feeling fresh for him year after year.

“When you look at my eight years in New Orleans, so many of those years with our skill-position guys were Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Lance Moore, Robert Meachem, right?” Brees said. “Those were the kind of big four for seven years. And now, obviously, two of those four are gone and now you have these young guys that are here to take their place. There is that period of time where they rejuvenate me, they get me excited to come to work every day. To work with these guys, to try to build that same trust and ESP as we think about this system and where we are trying to take this offense. That is the fun part for me.”

Brees said he’s especially noticed that transition this year across the field, where he was used to seeing guys like Will Smith, Jabari Greer, Roman Harper, Jonathan Vilma and Malcolm Jenkins for years.

“[They] were huge parts of this team for a really long time, certainly big influences in the locker room and that kind of thing. But that just opens up opportunities for other guys,” Brees said. “I think the thing that’s been most exciting for me is watching these young receivers develop and knowing that you’re going to get more opportunities, you’re going to get more time. They’re not just sitting back watching, they’re going with the second unit. They’re getting thrust into the action here. I’m getting a lot of time with them during practice, after practice. You can see the development and that gets you excited.”
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan already proved how much he loves to feature safeties in his versatile defense last year. The Saints spent about 75 percent of their snaps in nickel defense -- almost always using three safeties on the field at once.

Now Ryan has even more ammo to work with after the Saints added three-time Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd in free agency to pair with returning young players Kenny Vaccaro and Rafael Bush.

When asked how much input he had in the Saints signing Byrd to a six-year, $54 million contract, Ryan said, “Uh, that is absolutely zero. But I was happy. That one came from much higher up than me, but I was ecstatic when I heard the news.”

The Saints were most attracted by Byrd’s ball skills and his ability to force turnovers. His 22 interceptions rank second in the NFL over the past five seasons.

“I think he’s got unique ball skills. If that ball hits his hands, he is going to catch it,” Ryan said. “But also with that, he is very smart. He can put himself into plays.”

I asked Ryan if Byrd “freelances” from time to time to wind up with so many picks.

“I think that one thing with turnovers in the National Football League, these are the best quarterbacks in the world. You have to play your technique. You have to be disciplined,” Ryan said. “But 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. He’s played corner in college. I mean, he just has unique ball skills. And so did his father (longtime former NFL standout Gill Byrd).”

Ryan has always gushed with praise for second-year Saints safety Vaccaro as well. Last season, Ryan said he believed the Seattle Seahawks' Earl Thomas was the best free safety in the NFL, but Vaccaro was the best "overall safety” because of his versatility.

And Ryan also raved Tuesday about the hard-hitting Bush, who has played a big role both on defense and special-teams coverage for the past two seasons.

“Oh, he’s very important. He’s an excellent football player,” Ryan said of Bush, who was re-signed by the Saints as a restricted free agent after they matched a two-year, $4.5 million contract Bush signed with the Atlanta Falcons.

“The Falcons did us a favor by giving him such a low offer,” Ryan said. “That’s great. We got him for two years. Thanks.”
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- It’s still too early in New Orleans Saints training camp to judge exactly how they plan to split the workload among their deep running back corps.

My best guess is that Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson will split carries pretty evenly in base packages and early downs, while Pierre Thomas lines up more with the nickel offenses (sort of the old Darren Sproles role). That would make sense, since Thomas is both the best pass-catcher and the best pass-protector of all the Saints’ running backs.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees offered some lofty praise of Thomas’ versatility Tuesday when asked if throwing the screen pass to Thomas is one of his favorite plays.

“Yes. He’s one of the best screen runners there is, ever,” Brees said. “He does such a great job of timing, setting up his blocks, just hitting those seams and hitting the sidewalk. He does a phenomenal job at it.

“You see these young guys (Ingram, Robinson and Travaris Cadet) starting to pick up on a little bit of those traits, too. Sproles was great at it. But Pierre can do everything. He’s the best all-purpose back in the league in my opinion. Run, pass, screen game, pass protection ... you name it, he can do it.”

Saints Camp Report: Day 5

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New Orleans Saints training camp:
  • Another day, another "wow" moment for rookie Saints receiver Brandin Cooks. At some point, I'm going to have to borrow a Sean Payton term and start "de-recruiting" Cooks instead of continuing to pump him up. But that's hard to do when he keeps making eye-popping plays. This time Cooks took a screen pass from Drew Brees and shot past a couple hapless defenders for a touchdown. Cooks also showed off some receiving skills on a nifty back-shoulder catch from Brees, among other highlights. "That was awesome. ... I think that just gives you a taste of what we have in him," Brees said of the screen play. "(Some people) are straight-line fast but not real quick or they have long strides or short-area quickness but not long speed. This guy has it all. He's got short-area quickness, great transition ability and phenomenal straight-line speed."
  • Fellow receiver Nick Toon has also continued to impress throughout training camp. The third-year pro sprung free for one deep ball and went up high to pluck another pass out of the air. It was just another typical practice for Toon this summer as he has probably racked up more catches in team drills than any receiver in camp. ... Of course Toon has looked good in training camps past, and his job this year will be to prove that it can translate onto the field. But Brees, for one, sees Toon playing more "natural" with more "confidence."
  • I've said over the past couple days that 1-on-1 pass-rush drills are my favorite individual segment in camp. But I specifically like watching the daily battles between guard Jahri Evans and defensive end Akiem Hicks. They're both so strong, it's like the irresistible force vs. the immovable object. Credit Evans for holding his own so far in a drill that's designed to favor the defense, but they both look good.
  • Safety Jairus Byrd wasn't the only one back from injury Tuesday. Receiver Robert Meachem (back) and offensive tackle Tavon Rooks (back) also returned from injuries. … Among other highlights from Wednesday's session: an interception by cornerback Terrence Frederick on an overthrown deep ball by Luke McCown; a huge run block by right tackle Thomas Welch that upended safety Vinnie Sunseri; and a great pass break-up deep down the field by Corey White against QB Ryan Griffin at the end of practice.
  • No practice Wednesday. Players will have their first off-day of camp after five straight days of practice. They'll be back on the field Thursday morning.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. – Drew Brees said he was joking when he tweeted about how suspicious it was that he was “randomly” drug tested by the NFL twice after claiming he wants to play until he’s 45 years old.
But when it comes to those comments themselves about wanting playing for another 10 years, Brees said he was dead serious.

“I’m not delusional. I know that that’s something that would be extremely difficult to do,” Brees said. “I know it’s one year at a time and it’s, ‘What have you done for me lately?’ You have to come out each and every year, prove it, be consistent and all of those things.

“But why not push the envelope a little bit. Crazier things have happened.”

I followed up with Brees on the subject Tuesday because I suspected that he was indeed serious when he threw that lofty goal out there. And not only did he insist he was serious, but he offered a lot of insight into what makes him tick.

“Not many have done that,” Brees said. “George Blanda, he was plenty past 45. I’ve played with a couple of kickers, [John] Carney, John Kasay, of course Morten Anderson played past 45. Vinnie Testaverde was 44. It can be done. A lot of things would have to fall into place.

“I think throughout your career you hit certain milestones. I came in this league as a second-round pick to the San Diego Chargers. They signed Doug Flutie in free agency so I knew I was coming into a backup position for Doug Flutie. At that point your goal becomes, ‘You know what, I just want to become a starter in this league and earn a starting role.’ So then the minute you kind of get that, then, ‘OK, what’s the next step? I want to be a really good player. I want to be a Pro Bowl player in this league.’ Then you accomplish that, now, ‘It’s my fourth year, I think I can make it to double digits. I can play 10 years in this league.’ Then you hit that, then you are like, ‘OK, I want to play until I’m 35.’ Now I’m 35, so what’s the next thing? That is where my head is at. …

“It’s certainly not going to be easy, but I try to play this game like I am a kid and have fun like I did when I was playing it, tossing the ball down the street with my brother, buddies from school or whatever. I still have that playful mentality when it comes to it, so you enjoy coming to work every day. This is a serious business. They don’t keep you around if you aren’t playing well. You still have to play at a high level. You have to find a way to take care of your body and make good decisions in regards to that. I believe I can do that.”

So can Brees really do it? I’m not going to rule it out.

For one thing, Brees has shown no real signs of slowing down. Yes, he had some uncharacteristic struggles on the road last season, but he was as dominant as ever inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. And his final numbers in almost every major passing category ranked among the three best in his tenure with the New Orleans Saints (5,162 yards, 39 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 68.6 completion percentage and 104.7 passer rating).

For another things, Brees’ game doesn’t rely on superior arm strength or athleticism as much as it does his mental game, his instincts, his quick decision-making and his accuracy.

But more than anything else, Brees is one of the most driven, determined competitors the league has ever seen. And he said the other day that he’s motivated by trying to accomplish things that have never been done before or that people consider impossible. So if nothing else, Brees may just stubbornly will himself to keep thriving for another decade.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. -- Safety Jairus Byrd made his practice debut with the New Orleans Saints on Tuesday after his summer was wiped out by back surgery.

Byrd, a three-time Pro Bowler with the Buffalo Bills, was a marquee free-agent signing for the Saints this offseason. But he decided to have surgery in May to alleviate a nagging disc issue.

All along, the Saints insisted he would return for training camp and in plenty of time for the regular season.

Veteran receiver Robert Meachem (back) and rookie offensive tackle Tavon Rooks (back) also returned to practice Tuesday. Stay tuned for more details and comments following practice this afternoon.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. -- New Orleans Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief made a bold proclamation Monday, saying, "I think we can be as good as a running team as we have ever been."

And running back Pierre Thomas talked in a similar excited fashion about the run game the other day, saying among other things that, "We are putting in more time on the running game than I have ever seen before."

It would be natural to hear comments like that and be a little skeptical. The Saints seem to talk every summer about putting more emphasis on the run game -- but then the results have been decidedly hit and miss each season.

However, I've begun to sense one big difference while hearing folks talk about the run game this summer: Confidence.

[+] EnlargeKhiry Robinson
Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsThe Saints found their running groove late in the 2013 season and during their playoff win at Philadelphia.
Both Strief and coach Sean Payton sounded Monday like they were very encouraged and energized by the success the Saints started to have in the run game late last season -- especially in their playoff victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.

And they seem to genuinely expect that progress to continue in the second year under offensive line coach Bret Ingalls, who introduced more of a zone-running scheme last year.

"I think that Pierre is right," Strief said after the Saints' run blocking was particularly impressive during Monday's practice session. "I think that last year there was kind of a renewed focus, and yet there was a big change that happened last year. I think going into this year there is a lot more understanding, a much better consistent understanding from linemen, tight ends, backs, on what exactly we are doing.

"There's that same emphasis that we had last year. (But) there's a little bit of success early, and I think there is a lot more confidence in it right now. And I think guys are really excited in that part of the practice."

Payton, meanwhile, has consistently talked about how he wants to do a better job of "controlling" the final four minutes of close games -- whether that's running the ball or stopping the run. The Saints struggled at times in both areas last year before improving late in the season.

When asked if the Saints need to counteract the dominant teams in the NFC like Seattle and San Francisco, Payton said, "Well, we think we're one of those teams."

"We played that way in our first playoff game against Philadelphia and really approached the second playoff game (at Seattle) much the same way," Payton said. "Now, do we want to improve in that area? Yes. But we feel like that's going to be important for us, and we feel like we're one of those teams."

The Saints certainly have the talent to do it. They have a deep running back corps led by Thomas, Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson (who continued to impress in Monday's practice). And they have proven veteran blockers like Strief, Pro Bowl guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs and tight end Benjamin Watson, among others.

The Saints also have shown an ability to run the ball efficiently in the past, especially in their two most prolific offensive seasons of 2009 and 2011 (when they twice had the No. 6-ranked rushing attack in the NFL).

And that's the blueprint here. Nobody is talking about the Saints changing their offensive identity.

They're talking about being more efficient when they run -- and being able to consistently make teams pay for trying to sit back in coverage like Philadelphia or New England did last year.

The Saints would have no problem with a repeat of 2011, when they threw for more than 5,300 yards and still ran for more than 2,100.

"We have one of the best quarterbacks (Drew Brees) in the history of the NFL, and we are going to throw the football," Strief said. "But when we get a chance to run it, I know we want five (yards) a carry. I know that we want to be efficient. And if you look back at the years that we have been successful, I think that is really where the importance is. ...

"I don't think that we need to be the 49ers where we are running the ball 50 times a game, because I think that we have different pieces in place to be effective in the passing game. But I think the mindset of this camp is that we have to be a lot more efficient than we have been. I think we are off to a good start with it."

Saints Camp Report: Day 4

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. – A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New Orleans Saints training camp:

  • Cornerback Keenan Lewis created his own no-fly zone during one set of team drills Monday, rejecting passes intended for Marques Colston, Andy Tanner and Joe Morgan (the last two on back-to-back plays). As I've written many times, Lewis should have been a Pro Bowler last year and was as important as anyone to the Saints’ defensive revival. So far, he looks primed for a repeat. … Overall, it was a good day for the secondary, with Pierre Warren diving for an interception and Kenny Vaccaro and Patrick Robinson also providing highlights.
  • The offensive highlight was a long run by tailback Khiry Robinson that included a sweet cutback – a play that coach Sean Payton later singled out. But just as impressive for Robinson was a terrific blitz pickup when he had to absorb a big impact from Vaccaro. Robinson said that’s one element of his game he’s really trying to improve in his second NFL season, which he called “night and day” compared to his rookie year out of West Texas A&M. … Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief said as Robinson continues to add knowledge and confidence to his impressive ability, “You are kind of unleashing a lot of potential there.”
  • It was another physical practice in full pads Monday. The offensive line definitely got the better of the defense in early 9-on-7 run drills, though Strief admitted they’re at an advantage when the defense doesn’t have any safeties to help fill gaps. “There is good competition there. I tried to give (defensive end Akiem) Hicks a high-five after the period, and he told me no. There is definitely competitiveness, and that is part of training camp.” … Strief had another strong performance in one-on-one pass-rush drills. Others who stood out in that drill included center Jonathan Goodwin, defensive end Glenn Foster and outside linebacker Keyunta Dawson.
  • The Saints turned up the volume on Monday’s practice, blasting some music through the stretching period and a few drills – something they started doing before the playoffs last year when they mixed up the daily routine (along with the new Gatorade flavors and sweatsuits). It wasn’t just for entertainment purposes. Payton said it also helps players learn to focus through the noise.
  • Guard Ben Grubbs (undisclosed injury) and receiver Robert Meachem (back) remained sidelined Monday. Payton said both should be back within a day or so but declined to offer any specifics on the injuries. Safety Jairus Byrd, defensive tackle John Jenkins, receiver Kenny Stills and offensive tackle Tavon Rooks also remained sidelined.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Undrafted rookie safety Pierre Warren continued to “flash” on the New Orleans Saints' practice field Monday morning -- this time diving to intercept a pass that was dropped by receiver Brandon Coleman in full-team drills.

Earlier in camp, Warren also forced and recovered a fumble against running back Derrick Strozier. The former Jacksonville State standout has also made a handful of nice pass break-ups over the past few days.

And the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder clearly showed coaches something they liked long before this week -- because he spent all of organized team activities and minicamp working with the second-string defense (taking advantage of starter Jairus Byrd's injury absence).

Obviously it’s way too early to grant Warren a spot on the 53-man roster based on a handful of highlights. He’s probably had his share of low moments, too, that aren’t always visible to the naked eye. (For instance, Warren was involved in a secondary breakdown Sunday that left a receiver wide open, but it was unclear who missed the assignment).

But the Saints do have a history of giving opportunities to undrafted rookies who shine in training camp. And it certainly won’t hurt Warren to keep showing up on the practice field like he has so far.

Warren, who turned pro after his junior year, led the Gamecocks last season with five interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and finished second on the team with 76 tackles.

So far he has been working alongside fifth-round draft pick Vinnie Sunseri with the second string, ahead of Canadian Football League transplant Marcus Ball and fellow undrafted rookie Ty Zimmerman.

Coach Sean Payton said he took note of Warren’s nice play Monday. However, Payton quickly stressed that for all of those roster hopefuls, it is what they do on special teams this summer that will likely make the biggest impact.

“I just finished talking about this with the whole team: when you’re looking at the safety position, linebacker, tight end ... all of these players that are trying to make an impression are having a chance to do that now,” Payton said. “Certainly they’re going to have to do that when we start the preseason games. Every year there are going to be two guys that make it because of the kicking game. Either they cover kicks, they block a kick, they’re smart and know where to be. He’s a player that would fall into that category.

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

At least one young player has certainly received Payton’s message loud and clear.

As I was walking away from Payton at the podium, I came across fifth-round draft pick Ronald Powell in mid-sentence in a separate interview, and he was saying:

“... a lot of things I don’t know. But one thing I do know is that special teams is very important.”
Examining the New Orleans Saints' roster:

As I said during my first roster projection, it’s not easy to cut veteran Luke McCown, who has been a great fit in the Saints locker room. And it's still a neck-and-neck battle for the backup job so far. But McCown will have to clearly outshine Griffin in the preseason, since Griffin is younger, has more long-term potential and would allow the Saints the luxury of only keeping two quarterbacks.


No changes here. It's gonna be very difficult for undrafted rookies Timothy Flanders and Derrick Strozier to crack the roster since the Saints are so deep. I'll never say never, though, when it comes to the Saints and undrafted rookie running backs. ... Backup fullback Austin Johnson is also a dark horse possibility.


I still think it will be tough for all six of these guys to make the roster since the Saints typically keep only four receivers active on game days. But they have all shown enough in the past to earn the benefit of doubt for now. Morgan has been competing as a punt and kickoff returner (along with fellow receivers Cooks, Andy Tanner and Charles Hawkins). That's another possible path to the roster. ... Undrafted rookie Brandon Coleman is a possibility to crack the roster in a "redshirt" capacity. He's off to a nice start in camp after struggling in organized team activities and minicamp.


I was very tempted to add undrafted rookie Nic Jacobs to my latest 53-man roster projection since I think the Saints could have room for a fourth tight end (they've kept four often in the past). And Jacobs has turned my head by showing some athleticism to go with his massive 6-5, 269-pound frame. But I haven't seen or heard enough yet to know how the coaches feel about him -- or if he's ahead of fellow undrafted rookie Je'Ron Hamm at this point.


Rooks, a sixth-round draft pick, hasn't practiced yet because of a minor back issue. Obviously he'll have to get back on the field soon to keep from getting passed over. But his potential gives him the edge over several other candidates for those last one or two backup jobs for now. I'll also be keeping an eye on young guys like third-year guard Marcel Jones and undrafted rookie center Matt Armstrong, among others. ... I think the top seven on this list are pretty safe.


Johnson is the biggest question mark on this list, but the second-year pro has shown some versatility to go with his athletic potential after being moved to defensive end this year. Veteran Brandon Deaderick is a more experienced possibility who has shown his own versatility by lining up as the second-string nose tackle while Jenkins is out with an injury.


This is the one change I made from the previous projection -- adding in veteran outside linebacker Keyunta Dawson (and cutting cornerback Rod Sweeting). It will be very difficult for 10 linebackers to make the roster. But Dawson, who impressed the Saints as a backup last year, hasn't done anything to deserve the axe. He has continued to make plays with the second-string defense during camp. ... I also like pass-rusher Kyle Knox as a dark horse. But this is such a crowded group with the return of Butler from injury and the arrival of enticing rookies Fortt and Powell.


I hate to cut Sweeting, who showed potential last year as an undrafted rookie and stuck with the team all year. But he's been buried on the depth chart so far in camp, and the Saints have a lot of depth now with the additions of Bailey and Jean-Baptiste and Robinson coming back strong from a knee injury. Another possibility is Trevin Wade, who joined the Saints last year and has actually lined up ahead of Sweeting so far in the practice rotation.


This is another spot where I was very tempted to add undrafted rookie Pierre Warren, who has made some big plays already during training camp (including a forced fumble and a handful of pass break-ups). Warren has lined up with the second-string unit all summer (next to Sunseri) while Byrd has been out with injury. So obviously the Saints have seen something they like from the Jacksonville State product. ... A ton of people have asked me about former CFL standout Marcus Ball. He remains a possibility, too, and made a nice play on Sunday. But he's been behind Sunseri and Warren in the pecking order so far this summer.


I still like Graham over younger kicker Derek Dimke -- especially after coach Sean Payton spoke highly of Graham on Sunday. Neither one has done anything to win or lose the job yet, though.

Saints Camp Report: Day 3

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New Orleans Saints training camp:
  • The Saints held their first padded practice -- which always has a bit of that Christmas-morning feel for the linemen. Not surprisingly, no one was more exuberant than linebacker Junior Galette, who made several big plays. The first came just two plays into the first 9-on-7 contact drill, when Galette blew up a run play then trash-talked fullback Erik Lorig by yelling, "Block me!" Right tackle Zach Strief then gave Galette a shove as they walked back to the line. But that was the only time any real feistiness broke out.
  • Sunday also marked the debut of my favorite individual drill in camp -- 1-on-1 pass-rush. The drill is designed to favor pass-rushers, so it's often a "win" for the blockers just to hold their man at bay. The guys who stood out most to me were Strief (for holding strong against Cameron Jordan), end Akiem Hicks (for his raw power), linebacker Keyunta Dawson (who beat tackle Bryce Harris twice) and end Glenn Foster. But obviously that's a small sample size. … The battles between Strief-Jordan, Jahri Evans-Hicks and Terron Armstead-Galette were all pretty even.
  • The "old" guys stood out Sunday in a number of the most competitive roster battles: I wrote earlier about how cornerback Champ Bailey made the play of the day. … Quarterback Luke McCown outshined Ryan Griffin. That battle is still wide open, but it was worth pointing out since Griffin has gotten more attention so far. … Kickers Shayne Graham and Derek Dimke both made all their field-goal attempts, but coach Sean Payton gave Graham a vote of confidence by saying he'll be "tough to beat out." … Payton also singled out an intecerption made by backup linebacker Ramon Humber in 7-on-7 drills as "exceptional." … And center Jonathan Goodwin got his first snaps with the first team ahead of Tim Lelito this camp. Then Lelito and McCown fumbled an exchange during team drills.
  • Payton was right. The Saints don't get bad weather. They had beautiful conditions for most of Sunday's practice, squeezing it in before a downpour started. Everyone got drenched, however, during post-practice interviews.
  • Receiver Robert Meachem missed practice after his back locked up Sunday morning, but he shouldn't be out long. Meachem tweeted that he went to the hospital to get checked out but hopes to be back on the field soon. Jairus Byrd, John Jenkins, Kenny Stills and Tavon Rooks remained sidelined. And guard Ben Grubbs sat out for part of practice, but he's been getting a lot of scheduled rest throughout the summer.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- The other day, Champ Bailey was talking about how he’s had to adjust to things like new teammates, coaches and playbook nuances with the New Orleans Saints after spending the past 10 years with the Denver Broncos.

 “But as far as football, football is football,” Bailey said. “You either got it or you don’t. And I think I still got it.”

Bailey certainly demonstrated that on Sunday. The 12-time Pro Bowl cornerback showed off his veteran savvy and nose for the ball while teaming with safety Rafael Bush to make the play of the day during full-team drills.

Bailey stripped the ball away from fullback Erik Lorig after a swing pass. Then Bush made a sensational effort to pop the ball up in the air before it bounced out of bounds. And Bailey snagged it out of the air.

“I kind of take it personal when a guy sticks his hand in my face,” said Bailey, who was pretty animated after forcing the turnover. “He tried to stiff-arm me. I’m not gonna hurt him, I don’t know why he did that. So I just had to make him pay somehow. And the best way is to get the ball from him.”

Bailey, who joined the Saints this offseason at age 36, has looked good all summer while competing for the No. 2 starting cornerback job with Patrick Robinson and Corey White. Bailey still looks plenty fast and fluid and -- most importantly -- said he feels great after a foot injury derailed his 2013 season in Denver.

Obviously Bailey isn’t as fast or fluid as he was in his prime with the Broncos and Washington Redskins. But the Saints didn’t bring him here because of his superior athleticism. They want that veteran savvy and ball skills and instincts that he displayed on Sunday’s play.

As coach Sean Payton said when describing Bailey the other day, they don’t need to see it every day, they just need to see it once in a while.

As for what Bailey himself is looking for this year, well, it’s the same thing he’s been seeking throughout his stellar 16-year career.

“Getting a ring. That’s it,” said Bailey, who signed an incentive-laden two-year deal worth between $3.75 million and $6.75 million. “There’s nothing else keeping me out here. It’s not like they’re paying me a boatload of money around here.”