Top Saints camp battles: Offense

May, 27, 2014
May 27
3:00
PM ET
The New Orleans Saints have entered the next stage of offseason workouts with the start of organized team activities (OTAs) on Tuesday. Over the next four weeks, they’re scheduled to have a total of 15 full-team practice sessions during OTAs and minicamp.

The media will have access to eight of those sessions, starting with Thursday’s OTA practice. Here’s a breakdown of the early camp battles I’m most interested in watching on offense:

1. Fourth/fifth wide receivers: This might not be the most important camp battle on offense. But it’s the most jam-packed with bona fide candidates. And it’s always one of the most compelling position groups to watch at this time of year when players aren’t in pads or doing any live-contact drills yet.

Toon
Marques Colston, Kenny Stills and Brandin Cooks are all locked into the roster (though we unfortunately won’t get to see Cooks in action until mid-June because of NFL rules regarding rookies whose colleges are still in session).

That leaves Robert Meachem, Nick Toon, Joe Morgan, Andy Tanner, Brandon Coleman and others fighting for two to three roster spots. I broke down the battle at length recently, when I gave a slight edge to Toon for the fourth spot.

2. Center: This is the most important job still up for grabs, but it will more difficult to evaluate at this stage of the offseason. For now, second-year pro Tim Lelito should take all of the snaps with the first unit, which is huge for his growth and development as he works on his timing and play recognition, etc., with the first-string unit.

Lelito
I still expect veteran Jonathan Goodwin to be signed at some point for competition/insurance. And I’m curious to see how the Saints rotate the snaps among the backups. Undrafted rookie Matt Armstrong is the most experienced option at center. But the Saints will also want to cross-train guys fighting for the backup guard/center job like Senio Kelemete and Mike Golic Jr.

3. Punt returner: I’ll lump this in with the offense since the Saints need a playmaker to emerge here after parting ways with both Darren Sproles and Lance Moore. The leading contenders for the job are probably Cooks, running back Travaris Cadet and Morgan. I’m curious to see if any of the young newcomers get long looks here, too.

Both Cadet and Morgan have excelled as punt returners in the preseason in recent years, but neither has gotten much experience there in the regular season. Cadet is also the front-runner for the leading kickoff return job, which he has handled well in the regular season in small doses over the past two years.

4. Backup quarterback: Another one that’s both compelling and easy to monitor. Second-year pro Ryan Griffin will try to prove he’s taken enough of a Year 2 leap to supplant longtime NFL backup Luke McCown this summer. That battle won’t truly play out until the preseason games, though.

And let’s not rule out this year’s undrafted rookie Logan Kilgore, who will try to beat out Griffin for the role of future developmental prospect.

5. Backup left tackle: Frankly, I have no idea who will line up as the second-string left tackle behind Terron Armstead -- which speaks to Armstead’s impressive job security. The Saints have an experienced backup swing tackle in Bryce Harris, whom they trust. But Harris projects as more of a right tackle. The same goes for young roster hopefuls such as Marcel Jones and Tavon Rooks.

I’m less certain of how the Saints project some of the new guys they’ve signed this offseason, including guys with a bit of NFL experience (Thomas Welch, Ty Nsekhe and Manase Foketi).

Mike Triplett

ESPN New Orleans Saints reporter

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