New Orleans Saints: 2014 NFL Training Camp

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. -- Although the New Orleans Saints haven’t made any official announcement, it is apparent that veteran Jonathan Goodwin has won the starting center job over Tim Lelito.

Lelito
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Lelito said that is what he thinks from talking with coaches and reading the tea leaves. Though Goodwin refused to get ahead of himself, he said he did take it as a good sign that he was held out of the preseason finale along with several other veteran starters, while Lelito played in all four quarters.

"The positive thinking side of me would take it as a good sign," Goodwin said.

Lelito is thinking positive as well, though. Although the second-year pro wasn’t able to take over the job this summer, he still loves his position as a backup center and guard behind three veteran Pro Bowlers.

"I’m excited. I’m probably in the best position out of any young offensive lineman in the entire NFL," Lelito said following Thursday night’s game. "Because Ben Grubbs, Jon Goodwin and Jahri Evans, that’s probably the best three interior that you’re ever gonna see. And then you got (Zach) Strief out at right tackle, who should probably have a couple Pro Bowls himself. ...

"Who knows where I’m gonna play in the future, center or guard? But I’m just learning from Jon and Ben and Jahri, just trying to get better."

Believe it or not, Goodwin feels like he is still getting better in his 13th NFL season, as well. Last week, Goodwin talked about how he thinks this was his best training camp yet in his career spent with the New York Jets, Saints, San Francisco 49ers and back to the Saints. He reiterated that on Friday.

"A lot of guys hold on too long, and I don’t want to do that,” Goodwin said. “But I really felt like I could still play this game, and I think this last month has proven that."

The Saints should be feeling awfully positive about the center position, as well.

Nobody won this job by default. Goodwin's fountain-of-youth performance probably exceeded expectations. And they also must feel comfortable that Lelito is capable of stepping in at any of their interior line positions if needed this season.
Examining the New Orleans Saints' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)
All summer, I predicted that a tie-breaker for the backup QB job would go to Griffin because of his long-term potential and the fact that it would allow the Saints to keep only two quarterbacks. But in the end, I don't think it will come down to a tie-breaker. McCown played ahead of Griffin in all four preseason games, and ultimately played better throughout the course of those four games. I still think the Saints will keep Griffin because they like his long-term potential, even though it's not ideal to keep three quarterbacks on the roster.

RUNNING BACKS (5)

I'm assuming at this point that fullback Erik Lorig will at least begin the season on injured reserve with a leg injury that has kept him completely absent from practice thus far. However, I don't know that for a fact. The Saints could also decide to save a roster spot for Lorig or place him on short-term injured reserve, designated for a return. In the meantime, I'm sticking with Johnson over veteran Greg Jones as his replacement.

RECEIVERS (6)

I think Morgan has vaulted himself ahead of both Toon and Meachem in the pecking order this preseason based on both playing time and performance. That puts Meachem in jeopardy since he and Morgan have similar skill sets (excellent blockers and deep threats). But I'm sticking with six receivers since Stills' quad injury might keep him out in Week 1. ... Rookies Brandon Coleman and Seantavius Jones seem more like practice-squad candidates.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

I still like undrafted rookie Nic Jacobs' potential as a massive blocker, but the practice squad seems a more likely fit for him.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)

No change here after the preseason finale. I'm giving Jones the slight edge over Senio Kelemete for that final roster spot because of his versatility as a guard/tackle and because he seemed to play a little better recently. It's very close, though, and it wouldn't be a shock for them both to make the team.

DEFENSIVE LINE (6)

No changes here, either. Veteran backup Brandon Deaderick has played well at both tackle and end this summer, so he's absolutely a good bet to crack the roster. But I think the Saints have enough depth with their six returning players.

LINEBACKERS (9)

Edebali is a new addition to this list after the Saints released Victor Butler and Kevin Reddick earlier in the week. The German-born undrafted rookie has made his mark both on special teams and as a pass rusher this summer. The only reason it took me this long to add him to this list was because the Saints were so loaded at linebacker. But that's less of an issue now. I also left off rookie Khairi Fortt, assuming he'll get the "injury redshirt" treatment. And I wouldn't rule out rookie Todd Davis, who has played well on special teams and defense.

CORNERBACKS (5)

No changes here. Trevin Wade and rookie Brian Dixon are possibilities. But now that these five guys are all healthy, there might not be room for anyone else on the roster.

SAFETIES (5)

Undrafted rookie Pierre Warren made one last compelling case with an interception and a nice open-field tackle in Thursday's preseason finale. But I'm still barely leaving him off the list. That could change if Ball's unspecified injury is serious enough to land him on injured reserve.

SPECIALISTS (3)

The kicker battle is still too close to call. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Saints go with Graham or Derek Dimke or consider other options cut elsewhere. But I'm sticking with Graham because Dimke didn't do enough to clearly outshine him this summer. ... Dimke was the only one who got a chance to play in Thursday's preseason finale (making field goals from 49 and 23 yards and missing one from 54 that was nullified by a penalty). But coach Sean Payton explained that the plan was for Dimke to kick in the first half and Graham to kick in the second half. The Saints just didn't have any opportunities in the second half.
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.

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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."

Saints Camp Report: Day 22

August, 26, 2014
8/26/14
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).

Saints’ Camp Report: Day 21

August, 26, 2014
8/26/14
12:45
AM ET
METAIRIE, La. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New Orleans Saints training camp:
  • It may have been a good news/bad news day for linebacker Victor Butler. He returned to the practice field after being sidelined by an undisclosed injury for the past three weeks. But according to a report by WWL Radio, Butler is expected to be released. If that’s true, it’s a bit of a surprise and definitely a shame. Butler seemed like such a promising young pass-rusher and such a great fit when he signed as a free agent last year. But injuries may prevent him from ever taking a snap with the Saints. I’ll have more thoughts on the move after it’s confirmed.
  • Other injury updates: Receiver Kenny Stills wasn’t in pads Monday after aggravating his quad injury in last Saturday’s game. He watched practice from the sideline. … Safety Rafael Bush and offensive tackle Thomas Welch were new additions to the injury list. They also watched from the sideline without pads. So did linebacker Khairi Fortt, who remained sidelined. Cornerback Trevin Wade spent part of practice running off to the side with trainers. … Safety Marcus Ball and fullback Erik Lorig remained absent. … Receiver Brandin Cooks practiced fully after being limited by a stomach virus last week.
  • The most notable absence Monday was that of quarterback Drew Brees, whose wife Brittany is expected to give birth to their fourth child soon. Coach Sean Payton helped pick up the slack while Brees was gone, serving as an extra QB in some position drills. “We were one quarterback short. When I saw Pierre (Thomas) throwing, we needed a little intervention,” Payton said. Payton also spent a little time lining up as a cornerback. “Yes, with safety help,” he joked. … Brees seems like a long shot to play in Thursday’s preseason finale against the Baltimore Ravens. Payton indicated that second-year backup Ryan Griffin will get “a ton of work” in the game. So far, veteran backup Luke McCown has entered all three games ahead of Griffin. But when asked if that’s an indication that McCown is ahead in their battle for the No. 2 job, Payton said no.
  • Cornerback Champ Bailey ended Monday’s practice with an interception during a 2-minute drill simulation. It was a bit of a gift, since McCown was throwing one up toward the end zone as time expired, but it was another good sign that Bailey is on the mend from a foot injury. It may have been Bailey’s first interception in full-team drills during training camp since his workload has been so limited. … Linebacker David Hawthorne had an impressive pass break-up during that same series as the defense held up following a fast start in that drill by McCown, tight end Jimmy Graham and others.
  • The Saints will hold their final practice that is scheduled to be open to the public on Tuesday at 11 a.m., weather-permitting. For fans hoping to attend, please note the time change from the original schedule. The Saints will then hold a closed walk-through on Wednesday to prepare for Thursday night’s preseason finale against the Ravens in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Examining the New Orleans Saints' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)
I was extremely tempted to add veteran Luke McCown back onto the 53-man roster this week. He seems to be ahead of Griffin in the Saints' pecking order since he has now entered all three preseason games ahead of Griffin with the first-string offense. I was surprised by that since the two QBs had more of an even 50-50 split during practices all summer. ... I'm tentatively sticking with Griffin as the backup because I don't think McCown has clearly outshined him in games or practices, but the Saints' coaches could obviously feel differently. Neither scenario would surprise me.

RUNNING BACKS (5)

I'm assuming at this point that fullback Erik Lorig will begin the season on injured reserve with a leg injury that has so far kept him completely absent from practice. However, I don't know that for a fact. The Saints could also decide to save a roster spot for Lorig or place him on short-term injured reserve, designated for a return. In the meantime, I'm going with Johnson as his replacement. I was already leaning toward switching from veteran Greg Jones to Johnson last week. Then Johnson cemented it with his impressive effort on a touchdown catch during the opening drive Saturday night against the Indianapolis Colts.

RECEIVERS (6)

I've been saying all along that I only expect the Saints to wind up keeping five of these guys. But Stills' quad injury might open the door for New Orleans to keep all six. If the Saints decide that they can't afford to keep all six receivers, it's starting to look like Meachem or Toon could be in the most jeopardy based on their lack of production in preseason games. But all of them bring value. ... Rookies Brandon Coleman and Seantavius Jones seem more like practice-squad candidates.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

I still like undrafted rookie Nic Jacobs' potential as a massive blocker., but the practice squad seems a more likely fit for him.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)

No change here from last week (other than listing Goodwin ahead of Lelito in the pecking order). I'm giving Jones the slight edge over Senio Kelemete for that final roster spot because of his versatility as a guard/tackle and because he seemed to play a little better recently. It's very close, though, and it wouldn't be a shock for them both to make the team.

DEFENSIVE LINE (6)

No changes here, either. Veteran backup Brandon Deaderick has played well at both tackle and end this summer, so he's absolutely a good bet to crack the roster. But I think the Saints have enough depth with their six returning players.

LINEBACKERS (10)

I've added Butler back onto the roster and removed rookie Khairi Fortt, based on their injuries. Butler has finally started to work with trainers off to the side during practices, which makes it look like he may be ready to come back from his undisclosed injury in the near future. Fortt might also be able to come back in the near future, but he seems like more of a candidate for an "injury redshirt" type of season since he didn't figure to play a lot as a rookie this season. I could certainly be wrong in both cases, though, since I don't have many specific details about their injuries. I was also very tempted to add undrafted rookie Kasim Edebali to the roster this week after he played a key role on special teams against the Colts. He's shown impressive ability in training camp. But I just couldn't find room for him with so many linebackers already playing key roles.

CORNERBACKS (5)

No changes here. Trevin Wade is a possibility. But now that these five guys are getting healthier, there might not be room for Wade on the roster.

SAFETIES (5)

Ball has missed the past few days with an injury, so his status is a little more in doubt. And that could open the door for impressive undrafted rookie Pierre Warren. But if Ball can come back soon, I'm sticking with him.

SPECIALISTS (3)

I've been sticking with Graham all along, so there was no reason to change after he and Derek Dimke both made all their kicks in Saturday's game at Indianapolis. Graham has had a couple hiccups this preseason/training camp though, so he hasn't locked down the job by any means.

Saints Camp Report: Day 20

August, 21, 2014
8/21/14
7:40
PM ET
METAIRIE, La. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New Orleans Saints training camp:
  • The Saints transitioned out of "camp mode" on Thursday with a glorified walk-through practice that was mostly dedicated to preparation for Saturday night's preseason game at the Indianapolis Colts. This is the one and only preseason game that will get that kind of treatment, since it's the one game where the starters play about a full half. The Saints had a scout team impersonating the Colt, and it was interesting to note that the one Colts offensive player they singled out was up-and-coming receiver T.Y. Hilton (with a player wearing a red No. 13 jersey). "I think when you look at this team, we were talking about this the other day, there are a lot of new faces, guys that are very impressive, that can run. Obviously we know the quarterback (Andrew Luck) has turned into the real good football player. He's got the arm to make all the throws. I think the offensive line has played well. When you put that together with the defense, you are seeing a young roster that has played well, and I'm sure they have high expectations."
  • Since the Saints' offensive and defensive units weren't really going full-speed against each other Thursday, there weren't a ton of highlight moments that stood out. But sure enough, cornerback Corey White managed to squeeze in another big play (almost a daily ritual in camp) with an interception against quarterback Ryan Griffin. Although White probably won't begin the season as a starter with Champ Bailey and Patrick Robinson now returning from injuries, he's certainly taken advantage of his increased practice opportunities. And he'll likely make his way onto the field in certain packages. "All of the reps have been good for me just to show the coaches what I can do on a constant, consistent basis," White said.
  • Receiver Brandin Cooks was back in practice on a limited basis Thursday after missing the three previous days with a stomach virus/fever. When asked if Cooks will play against the Colts, coach Sean Payton said, "We'll see. … We'll see where he's at tonight and tomorrow. (The focus is) really just keeping him hydrated and getting his body weight up a little bit." … Guard Ben Grubbs was also back in practice after missing the past two and a half days with an undisclosed injury. The only other change from Wednesday's practice participation was the absence of safety Marcus Ball, which Payton declined to elaborate on. … Also noteworthy: linebacker Victor Butler and cornerback Rod Sweeting were doing more conditioning work with trainers off to the side of practice than we've seen yet.
  • Quarterback Drew Brees was asked Thursday about safety Jairus Byrd's standout performance in Wednesday night's practice -- particularly Byrd's impressive and deceptive interception against Brees in 7-on-7 drills. "Oh man, it was a ridiculous play," Brees said. "I didn't throw it exactly where I wanted to; I was trying to throw it to Nick Toon in the back, kind of retracing on a route, and Jairus was underneath it. 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."
  • The Saints don't have a full practice scheduled for Friday. They'll have a brief walk-through, and they'll also take part in an annual fan luncheon before traveling to Indianapolis. Saturday's game at 8 p.m. ET will be nationally-televised by CBS.

Saints Camp Report: Day 19

August, 21, 2014
8/21/14
12:10
AM ET
MANDEVILLE, La. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New Orleans Saints training camp:
  • It didn't take long for safety Jairus Byrd to start living up to his reputation as a ball hawk. In just his second practice doing full team drills, Byrd had two interceptions (one in full team and one in 7-on-7). He also broke up a pass from Drew Brees to Jimmy Graham in the end zone in full-team drills. "He's someone that covers a lot of ground quickly. He's really smart with his eyes. He's a veteran player that understands formations and where the ball might be going," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "Tonight there were a couple of plays where the quarterbacks just commented, 'Where'd he come from?'" Payton also reiterated that Byrd is expected to make his preseason debut Saturday night at the Indianapolis Colts.
  • There was a lot of good news on the injury front Wednesday night. Cornerback Keenan Lewis and defensive end Akiem Hicks returned to full participation after being limited by injuries earlier this week. Lewis briefly had either his left foot or ankle re-taped by trainers on the sideline early in practice. Cornerback Champ Bailey participated in full-team drills for the first time since July 31. Cornerback Patrick Robinson returned on a limited basis with an undisclosed injury. Receiver Brandin Cooks remained out with a stomach virus/fever. Guard Ben Grubbs, linebackers Victor Butler and Khairi Fortt and fullback Erik Lorig were also among those who remained out with injuries.
  • The Saints took their practice on the road Wednesday night across Lake Pontchartrain to Mandeville High School -- something they haven't done much during Payton's tenure. Payton and players said they loved the atmosphere, both the energy from the announced crowd of 6,617 and the retro feel of the high school surroundings. "I think there's a scent to the locker room," Payton said, adding that the team will consider holding some practices in other areas going forward.
  • Other highlights from Wednesday's practice: Brees looked sharp, aside from the ball that was tipped away by Byrd. He drilled a touchdown to Robert Meachem in red zone drills and sailed a gorgeous touchdown pass to receiver Nick Toon. He even took off running for a long gain on a keeper at one point. ... Receiver Marques Colston was dipping from the same fountain of youth, making two nice grabs in team drills. ... Rookie receiver Brandon Coleman had a great night, catching a pass from Brees in team drills and later making a fantastic effort to reach for a ball and try to tap his toes in bounds in the corner of the end zone (though it was unclear if he stayed in). ... Safety Rafael Bush intercepted quarterback Ryan Griffin on a ball tipped up by tight end Benjamin Watson. Cornerback Derrius Brooks had an even more impressive one-handed pick against quarterback Logan Kilgore. ... Rookie linebacker Ronald Powell shot into the backfield for a tackle-for-loss. ... Center Tim Lelito sailed a shotgun snap over Griffin's head, but he stood out against nose tackle John Jenkins in 1-on-1 pass rush drills.
  • The Saints will be back at their practice facility for a 11 a.m. CT practice on Thursday, though they moved it indoors, which means it's closed to the public.

Saints’ Camp Report Day 18

August, 19, 2014
8/19/14
7:45
PM ET
METAIRIE, La. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New Orleans Saints training camp:
  • The Saints got some good news on the injury front Tuesday when safety Jairus Byrd was cleared to do full-contact work. But there were still a handful of key players missing. Cornerback Keenan Lewis was held out of practice, though he did some exercises off to the side with trainers. Guard Ben Grubbs was absent after leaving with an undisclosed injury during Monday’s practice. Receiver Brandin Cooks was absent for the second straight day with a stomach virus (coach Sean Payton said he still had a fever). Cornerback Patrick Robinson, linebackers Victor Butler and Khairi Fortt and fullback Erik Lorig were also among a group of players who remained sidelined with unspecified injuries. Defensive end Akiem Hicks and cornerback Champ Bailey participated in a walk-through but didn’t do any team drills.
  • Veteran defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick replaced Hicks with the starting defense – another sign of Deaderick’s versatility and possible value to the Saints. The 6-foot-4, 305-pounder spent most of the summer lining up as the Saints’ second-string nose tackle while John Jenkins recovered from a pectoral surgery, and that’s where Deaderick was lined up when he recovered a fumble in last Friday’s preseason game against the Tennessee Titans. Deaderick, 27, spent his first three seasons with the New England Patriots and one year with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He’s right on the roster bubble, but he’s making a strong case.
  • Speaking of that roster bubble, another undrafted rookie that belongs on your radar is outside linebacker Kasim Edebali, a German native who played at Boston College. The main reason I haven’t touted Edebali much when I do my weekly 53-man roster projections is because I feel like that position is so overcrowded that it will be tough to crack. But the 6-2, 253-pounder has flashed some impressive athleticism and pass-rush ability at times. Saints analyst Bobby Hebert was just touting Edebali on Monday. Then on Tuesday, Edebali got a ringing endorsement from fellow former undrafted linebacker Junior Galette. When asked if he’s been impressed by any undrafted guys, Galette said, “One guy I’d point out, Kasim Edebali. You know he’s not really a rookie, I feel like. He’s up there in age, 25 years old [as of Sunday]. He’s a lot more mature than I was as a rookie. And the guy gets off the ball and he can play.”
  • Some of the on-field highlights Tuesday: Rookie cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste went up high to break up a pass from Drew Brees to Marques Colston in the end zone, one of Jean-Baptiste’s best efforts to date. … Cornerback Corey White forced a fumble against running back Khiry Robinson in seven-on-seven drills, one of White’s many nice plays in camp. … Tight end Jimmy Graham continued to serve as a go-to target in Tuesday’s practice, continuing a stellar camp. And after Graham scored a TD on Tuesday, he celebrated with an emphatic (and legal) spike. … Brees kept the ball to himself, tucking it and running it in for a score to cap a red zone drill at the end of practice.
  • The Saints will take their practice show on the road Wednesday night for a rare practice across the lake at Mandeville High School. The session, from 7-9 p.m. CT, will be free and open to the public, weather permitting. Payton said the team will be in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts instead of a fully-padded session.

Saints Camp Report: Day 17

August, 18, 2014
8/18/14
6:00
PM ET
METAIRIE, La. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New Orleans Saints training camp:
  • The defense got the better of the offense during a simulated two-minute drill at the end of Monday's practice -- always among the most spirited competitions in camp. Quarterback Drew Brees looked sharp for a while, moving the first-string offense from one 20-yard line to the other. Brees hit tight end Jimmy Graham for four completions, including a perfect pitch-and-catch tucked between a linebacker and safety. And Mark Ingram was an asset as a receiver out of the backfield during the drive. But then the drive stalled as time started to run out, with a spike, an incomplete shot toward Kenny Stills in the end zone, a would-be sack by blitzing safety Kenny Vaccaro (if they were live tackling) and an incomplete fade pass toward Marques Colston in the end zone. Brees loudly grunted his disgust after the missed opportunity. ... Ryan Griffin led the second-string offense, but they weren't able to cross midfield, thanks to a pass break-up by safety Vinnie Sunseri and two would-be sacks on third and fourth down. Griffin's fourth-down pass, which was nullified, was also intercepted by safety Pierre Warren for good measure.
  • I left Warren off my projected 53-man roster this morning. But the undrafted rookie continues to make plays and make an awfully strong case for himself. Warren also had a nice pass break-up earlier in full-team drills. The problem is that I've still got Warren ranked sixth among the safeties on New Orleans' depth chart, with newcomers Sunseri and Marcus Ball also playing so well in recent weeks. Ball also had a would-be sack on a blitz during team drills Monday.
  • Speaking of undrafted rookies on the roster bubble, receiver Brandon Coleman had a great practice, continuing his roller-coaster summer with the Saints. Coleman made several nice catches, even working in with the first string at times. His best effort was when he went up high to snag a pass over cornerback Brian Dixon. I still think Coleman is more likely headed to the practice squad than the roster, but his unique size and skill set make him worth watching. Payton took note of Coleman's performance, saying he made four or five nice catches, which was “encouraging.” Payton also complimented Coleman's blocking performance in Friday's preseason game.
  • Another receiver who looked sharp Monday was Colston. He had at least two nice catches -- including a gorgeous throw from Brees over cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste during team drills. Colston sat out last Friday's preseason game for an undisclosed reason, but his health certainly hasn't looked like an issue over the past two days.
  • The Saints had to head indoors Monday because of rain and lightning -- to the chagrin of the fans, since indoor practices are closed to the public. They'll try again Tuesday, with an outdoor practice scheduled from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., open to the public weather-permitting.
Examining the New Orleans Saints' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)
I'm sticking with my pick of Griffin for the backup job, since I think he's been doing enough to prove he's poised and mature enough to handle the role. And if Griffin wins the backup job, that allows the Saints to just keep two quarterbacks. But I'm absolutely not counting out veteran Luke McCown, who played great the other night against the Tennessee Titans.

RUNNING BACKS (5)

I made the switch at fullback from Erik Lorig to Jones since we haven't seen Lorig on the practice field for two weeks. But until we know more details about the severity of Lorig's leg injury, it's impossible to predict whether he'll wind up on the active roster or injured reserve. If Lorig's injury is serious, either the veteran Jones or younger backup Austin Johnson could wind up replacing him. ... As I said last week, the four tailbacks are practically etched in stone.

RECEIVERS (6)

I felt bad about cutting Morgan from my 53-man roster last week. And I feel even worse after watching him have his best week of practice, followed by an outstanding performance in Friday's preseason game. Morgan sure looks healthy, which was the biggest question mark with him after he missed nearly a year with a major knee injury. ... I still think it will be hard for the Saints to keep so many veteran receivers, since they typically only keep four active on game days. But I'm not ready to prematurely cut any of them just yet after learning my lesson last week. ... If the Saints decide to keep a young receiver in a "redshirt" role, Seantavius Jones might be that guy. But the practice squad seems a more likely destination for Jones or Brandon Coleman.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

Last week, I added undrafted rookie Nic Jacobs when I cut Morgan. So this week I'm flip-flopping them again. I still like Jacobs' potential as a massive blocker and possible special teams asset. But there aren't a ton of open roster spots right now.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)

Another reverse flip-flop, with Jones replacing Senio Kelemete as my eighth lineman. Both guys have a great shot at the roster -- and both have gotten some great experience over the past two weeks while starters Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs have been sidelined with injuries. I went with Jones this time because I thought he played a little better Friday night and because he has more guard-tackle versatility. But it's close.

DEFENSIVE LINE (6)

No changes here, with all six of these guys practically written in ink. Versatile backups Rufus Johnson Jr. and Brandon Deaderick are also strong possibilities.

LINEBACKERS (10)

No changes here either. I made the tough decision last week to cut veteran Victor Butler, and he still hasn't returned to practice. Like Lorig, it's impossible to make an accurate prediction until we know more about the severity of Butler's injury. But with so many quality linebackers on this roster, Butler will have to come back quickly to cement his place.

CORNERBACKS (5)
Trevin Wade is another strong possibility -- especially with the Saints dealing with so many injuries at cornerback right now. As long as all five of these guys are healthy by Week 1, though, I'm leaving Wade in a "next man up" role on the bubble.

SAFETIES (5)

Undrafted rookie Pierre Warren has had a great camp and has a great shot at the roster. But he also just missed the cut because of the Saints' depth at this position. Both Sunseri and Ball have looked even better over the last week or two.

SPECIALISTS (3)

I'm sticking with Shayne Graham at kicker. He's had a couple hiccups this preseason/training camp, but he's been mostly solid and still seems more reliable than less-experienced backup Derek Dimke. It's far from over.

Saints Camp Report: Day 16

August, 17, 2014
8/17/14
11:50
PM ET
METAIRIE, La. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New Orleans Saints training camp:
  • The Saints returned to some hot and steamy weather when they held their first practice back home in Metairie. But it felt like Christmas morning with so many of their key players returning to the field at once. Quarterback Drew Brees was back in full-team drills for the first time in two weeks. So was guard Jahri Evans. Cornerback Keenan Lewis and receiver Marques Colston were full-go after injuries Friday night. Receiver Kenny Stills, linebacker David Hawthorne and defensive tackle John Jenkins increased their workload. And coach Sean Payton said he expects Jairus Byrd back to full speed Monday. Everyone on that list should be 100 percent by the start of the regular season. ... And to top it all off, even owner Tom Benson was back watching from his familiar spot in his golf cart after he had to leave training camp in West Virginia early because of some struggles with the altitude.
  • The "downer" side of the injury report: Fullback Erik Lorig and safety Ty Zimmerman remained absent. And cornerbacks Champ Bailey, Patrick Robinson, Rod Sweeting and Terrence Frederick and linebackers Victor Butler and Khairi Fortt all sat out in street clothes. It was a good sign to see Butler at least watching for the first time in weeks, with a sleeve over his right leg (the specifics of his injury are unknown). And Bailey was doing a lot of work off to the side with trainers (the specifics of his injury are also unknown). But all of their timetables are more in doubt than the others.
  • With so many injuries at cornerback, the healthy corners are obviously getting a ton of reps. But so far it’s been hit and miss for some of the guys in the lineup. Trevin Wade, who is about as closely "on the bubble" as it gets when it comes to the 53-man roster, literally tripped up when he fell while the Tennessee Titans’ Justin Hunter broke free for a 64-yard touchdown the other night. And rookie cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste has had a series of ups and downs all summer, including some struggles at Sunday’s practice. I like Jean-Baptiste’s long-term potential and still expect his physicality and press coverage to be great assets. But he’s still going through that rookie learning curve for now.
  • Brees started 0-for-2 (gasp!) during full-team drills in his return to the field Sunday. He overshot receiver Nick Toon deep on his first throw. Then a short pass appeared to be dropped by receiver Joe Morgan. But one play later, Brees hit Morgan deep behind the secondary. ... Brees also connected with Colston for one of the day’s most impressive individual efforts in 7-on-7 drills when Colston reached out to snag a one-handed pass.
  • The Saints changed up their practice times this week. Their practices on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday have been moved back to 11 a.m. CT. They’re all still open to the public, weather-permitting. The Wednesday night practice across the lake in Mandeville is still scheduled for 7 p.m.
As long as the training camp injuries are minor enough, teams can always find a silver lining to them. They mean more opportunities for the backups to develop and be evaluated.

That’s been the case with the New Orleans Saints this summer at a few positions -- namely quarterback, guard and safety. With Drew Brees missing the past two weeks with a strained oblique, the Saints have been able to see how backups Ryan Griffin and Luke McCown fit in with the first-string offense against the first-string defense.

[+] EnlargeSenio Kelemete and Marcel Jones
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsMarcel Jones, No. 70, and Senio Kelemete have benefited from getting first-team reps in camp.
Likewise, they’ve gotten a long look at backup guards Senio Kelemete and Marcel Jones, who by all accounts have stepped up big-time while starting guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs have been nursing injuries. And young safeties like Vinnie Sunseri, Marcus Ball and Pierre Warren have all taken advantage of increased opportunities while starter Jairus Byrd is recovering from back surgery.

“That can only help us,” Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief said, specifically referring to the situation at guard. “Look, Jahri’s gonna need some reps to get ready and play, and we’ve got time to get him healthy. [In the meantime], I still can’t say ‘Cel or Marcel.’ I’m still calling him Jah. Me and Jah kind of have our own language that we speak, and it’s not in our playbook. And yet it’s hard for me not to speak that language. So I think the cohesiveness between us will be there, and the same on the other side.

“But to get these guys in, give them a chance, you talk about guys that have grown in this camp, Marcel Jones, Senio Kelemete, really tons of growth. I mean, they really have played well and have gotten a lot of good reps against good players.”

Saints coach Sean Payton pointed out that the same thing happened at the receiver position last year when Kenny Stills and Nick Toon got a ton of experience with the first-string offense because of injuries -- something that obviously gave Stills a huge boost in his rookie season.

“You don’t know what position group it is going to be, but it’s somewhat typical of training camp,” Payton said. “And it’s important for the next guy up to know what to do and take advantage of the opportunity.”

The starting units should play a little more in Friday’s second preseason game against the Tennessee Titans -- possibly into the second quarter, or longer at thinner positions. Here’s a look at how the snap counts were divided in the Saints’ preseason opener last week at the St. Louis Rams:

OFFENSE (67 Snaps)
Quarterback – Ryan Griffin 38, Luke McCown 17, Logan Kilgore 12
Receiver – Brandin Cooks 37, Joe Morgan 36, Nick Toon 23, Robert Meachem 18, Marques Colston 14, Seantavius Jones 13, Brandon Coleman 12, Charles Hawkins 4
Tight end – Josh Hill 32, Nic Jacobs 21, Jimmy Graham 17, Benjamin Watson 12
Running back – Travaris Cadet 25, Mark Ingram 15, Khiry Robinson 14, Derrick Strozier 10, Timothy Flanders 4
Fullback – Austin Johnson 28
Center – Tim Lelito 39, Jonathan Goodwin 16, Matt Armstrong 12
Tackle – Bryce Harris 44, Thomas Welch 44, Zach Strief 17, Terron Armstead 17, Tavon Rooks 12
Guard – Jason Weaver 50, Senio Kelemete 40, Marcel Jones 32, Manase Foketi 12

DEFENSE (75 snaps)
Safety – Marcus Ball 43, Vinnie Sunseri 35, Pierre Warren 35, Ty Zimmerman 27, Rafael Bush 13, Kenny Vaccaro 13
Cornerback – Corey White 40, Stanley Jean-Baptiste 35, Trevin Wade 35, Brian Dixon 27, Derrius Brooks 20, Patrick Robinson 13, Keenan Lewis 13, Rod Sweeting 10
Outside linebacker – Keyunta Dawson 27, Khairi Fortt 26, Kasim Edebali 25, Ronald Powell 21, Junior Galette 13, Chidera Uzo-Diribe 10, Parys Haralson 6
Inside linebacker – Kevin Reddick 39, Todd Davis 27, Ramon Humber 23, Kyle Knox 21, David Hawthorne 13, Curtis Lofton 13
Defensive end – Glenn Foster 35, Tyrunn Walker 32, Rufus Jonson 24, George Uko 21, Akiem Hicks 13, Cameron Jordan 13
Defensive tackle – Lawrence Virgil 27, Brandon Deaderick 26, Brodrick Bunkley 11

SPECIAL TEAMS (31 snaps)
Ball 14, Sunseri 14, Dawson 13, Reddick 13, Edebali 12, Fortt 12, Jean-Baptiste 12, Knox 12, Powell 12, Davis 11, Hill 11, Zimmerman 11, R.Johnson 10, Wade 10, Justin Drescher 9, S.Jones 9, Cadet 8, Bush 7, Derek Dimke 7, Dixon 7, Humber 7, Thomas Morstead 7, Uzo-Diribe 7, Coleman 6, Harris 6, Jacobs 6, Sweeting 6, White 5, Cooks 4, Shayne Graham 4, Hawthorne 4, Warren 4, Armstead 3, Bunkley 3, Goodwin 3, Hicks 3, Jordan 3, Kelemete 3, Lelito 3, K.Robinson 3, P.Robinson 3, Strief 3, Vaccaro 3, Virgil 3, Watson 3, Welch 3, Armstrong 2, Brooks 2, Foketi 2, Griffin 2, M.Jones 2, Robert Quinn 2, Rooks 2, Weaver 2, Flanders 1, Lofton 1, Strozier 1

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