New Orleans Saints: erik lorig

A look at the New Orleans Saints' offensive snap counts in 2014, per ESPN Stats and Information:

Quarterback: Drew Brees 1,094

Running back: Mark Ingram 458, Pierre Thomas 284, Travaris Cadet 195, Khiry Robinson 148, Edwin Baker 3, Brian Leonard 1

Fullback: Erik Lorig 152, Austin Johnson 104

Receiver: Marques Colston 841, Kenny Stills 598, Brandin Cooks 506, Robert Meachem 240, Nick Toon 232, Joe Morgan 132, Jalen Saunders 1

Tight end: Jimmy Graham 744, Benjamin Watson 545, Josh Hill 274

Offensive tackle: Zach Strief 1,018, Terron Armstead 798, Bryce Harris 375

Guard: Jahri Evans 1,094, Ben Grubbs 1,087, Senio Kelemete 7

Center: Jonathan Goodwin 821, Tim Lelito 274

  • Brees didn’t miss a snap, despite the oblique strain that sidelined him for two weeks during training camp, and he has still never missed a game due to injury in his 14-year career. … Evans was the only other player to play every snap this season, though fellow guard Ben Grubbs came awfully close.
  • Seeing rookie receiver Brandin Cooks’ name on this list was a reminder of what a loss he was when he suffered a season-ending thumb injury in Week 10 -- just as he was starting to come on strong as a deep receiver. His return will be among the top reasons for excitement this offseason.
  • Robinson’s season was also derailed by his arm injury, which prevented him from making a strong case to replace free agent Mark Ingram as the Saints’ leading man in 2015. Robinson has shown great glimpses in small doses. It will be interesting to see if the Saints feel the need to invest in Ingram's return or let Robinson be a leading part of a committee approach.
  • Goodwin wasn’t showing his age early in the season, but his consistency dipped after he battled a variety of nagging injuries. He’s an unrestricted free agent, so it will be interesting to see if he or the Saints are ready to move on -- especially since Lelito seemed to play well when he started in Goodwin’s place. The Saints need to start developing more young talent throughout the offensive line.
  • Speaking of which, losing Armstead to a neck injury in Week 15 proved very costly as replacement Bryce Harris struggled in his place. Armstead’s continued development is yet another reason for optimism going forward.
  • Fullback Austin Johnson took over for injured veteran Erik Lorig during the preseason. Then Lorig took the job back when Johnson was injured in Week 7. That should be a wide-open battle this summer.

Film study: Reviewing Saints offense

December, 3, 2014
METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints' offense was back in vintage “pick your poison” form during Sunday’s 35-32 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, with Drew Brees throwing TD passes to five different receivers and Mark Ingram running for 122 yards.

But as I said in my Wednesday buzz video, the Steelers deserve a lot of the blame for doing two things defenses have learned not to do against the Saints.

One, they blitzed too much. And two, they paid way too much attention to tight end Jimmy Graham.

The latter worked great, since Graham wasn’t targeted for the first time since 2012. But those two approaches both took the Steelers’ safeties out of commission, which led to big plays for guys like Ingram, Kenny Stills and Benjamin Watson.

The approach that has worked best against the Saints this season is sitting back in coverage and forcing them to chip their way down the field on long drives. New Orleans made Pittsburgh pay for straying from that script.

Here are some other thoughts after watching the tape:

The Graham effect: There were a handful of plays where Pittsburgh was directly burned by paying too much attention to Graham -- usually with safety Troy Polamalu shadowing him.

The most notable was Watson’s 15-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter, when he was left wide open while three defenders were eyeing Graham. The Saints also just missed on a possible 76-yard TD pass to Stills in the first quarter when Brees was hit as he threw under blitz pressure. But Stills broke wide open behind the defense because Graham was being double-covered.

And receiver Joe Morgan drew a critical holding penalty in the fourth quarter in a similar situation when a cornerback had to hold him as the last line of defense.

The blitz effect: As noted above, the Steelers did have some success with the blitz. But they got burned more often than not as they blitzed on 50 percent of Brees’ dropbacks -- the most of any opponent this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Brees was 10 of 14 for 130 yards and three touchdowns against the blitz.

Brees’ best throw of the day was a 44-yard strike to Stills in stride that sailed 42 yards in the air on third-and-6 in the second quarter. The line picked up the blitz so well that Brees was able to step up into the pocket. Among those who stood out while picking up blitzes on other big plays were Ingram, tight end Josh Hill and guard Jahri Evans.

Brees was sacked twice on blitzes (though one was nullified by the holding penalty against Morgan.) Center Jonathan Goodwin and substitute left tackle Bryce Harris gave up the sacks. Goodwin and left tackle Terron Armstead each gave up at least two pressures.

Max protect: Brees had all day to throw his 69-yard TD pass to Stills in the third quarter on a well-designed play. The Saints kept eight men in to block, which gave Stills time to burn cornerback Ike Taylor with a double move on third-and-10. Hill and Pierre Thomas did a great job in protection on that play, with Hill holding off James Harrison and Thomas slowing Jason Worilds before help arrived.

Other TDs: I previously broke down receiver Nick Toon's awesome effort to bounce off four defenders for his first NFL TD. Brees’ short TD passes to fullback Erik Lorig and receiver Marques Colston were pretty nondescript since they looked so easy (a play-action pass to Lorig in the flat and a back-shoulder throw to Colston, who posted up his defender). But we know those plays aren’t as easy as they look since the Saints had so much trouble near the goal line in recent weeks.

Running strong: Ingram and the run game got back in the groove after a couple slow weeks. He had great cutbacks on his 31-yard run in the fourth quarter and a 9-yard run in the second. Lorig had a great lead block on a 20-yard run. Harris had two standout run blocks during his limited appearance. Evans, Watson, Morgan, Colston and right tackle Zach Strief each stood out at least once as well.

There were a handful of run stuffs, but not too many. Guard Ben Grubbs got burned on a 4-yard loss late in the game.

Drops: Colston and Toon each dropped a pass, and Colston could possibly be credited with two -- though his arm got hit.
The New Orleans Saints placed fullback Austin Johnson on injured reserve with the knee injury he suffered nine days earlier against the Green Bay Packers. They replaced him with second-year offensive tackle Nick Becton, whom they signed off the New York Giants’ practice squad.

The specifics of Johnson’s knee injury are unknown. It’s a shame his season ended so early since the underdog had been off to such a great start.

Johnson began his NFL career as an undrafted linebacker with the Baltimore Ravens in 2012, but he switched positions and joined the Saints in 2013. Then after spending last season on the practice squad, Johnson cracked the opening-day roster this year. He was primarily a blocker but had 22 rushing yards and 15 receiving yards with a touchdown.

At least the timing worked out for the Saints, who got veteran fullback Erik Lorig back from his own ankle injury in mid-October. Lorig has still been shaking off some rust in his first two games back, but he’s a proven veteran whom the Saints expected to be their starter all along this year before he suffered his injury in training camp.

Becton (6-foot-6, 323 pounds) spent last year with the San Diego Chargers after signing as an undrafted free agent out of Virginia Tech. He appeared in one game, spending most of his time on the practice squad. Then he joined the Giants’ practice squad in September after being released by San Diego.

It’s unclear if the Saints are concerned about starting right tackle Zach Strief’s availability after he left last Thursday’s game at Carolina with a back injury. The Saints’ first practice and injury report of the week will be Wednesday as they prepare to host the San Francisco 49ers.

The Saints also added two new players to their practice squad -- fullback Michael Zordich and running back Tauren Poole.

Film study: Reviewing Saints offense

November, 4, 2014
You won’t hear this said much after a New Orleans Saints victory -- but Drew Brees’ outstanding performance flew under the radar in last week’s 28-10 win over the Carolina Panthers.

The Saints’ defense and running back Mark Ingram got more attention and credit. And deservedly so, since they both helped New Orleans churn out a win despite two early turnovers by Brees (an interception off a tipped pass and a fumble that was stripped by his own fullback).

But aside from those fluky foibles, Brees was about as sharp throwing the ball as he’s been all year. He completed 11 passes of 15 yards or more (plus a huge 32-yard pass interference penalty before halftime).

Among other highlights, Brees threw a gorgeous over-the-shoulder strike to Jimmy Graham for 27 yards, fired a pinpoint back-shoulder bullet to Marques Colston for 22 yards on third-and-10 and stepped into pressure to deliver a 25-yard pass to receiver Robert Meachem.

Brees finished 24-of-34 for 297 yards with one touchdown (a 1-yard strike to Graham before the clock expired in the first half) and the interception. He also leaped high for a 1-yard TD run, which was a great decision by him when he had the option to settle for a field goal if he didn’t like what he saw from the defense.

Here are some more observations after reviewing the tape:

Line protection better than it seemed: Brees took a few more hits than normal. He was sacked four times (since both of his fumbles count as sacks) and had to throw away a couple passes under pressure. But the offensive line itself was actually much better in protection than it seemed. Brees had a huge pocket on many of his throws. And three of the worst moments came when fullback Erik Lorig and Ingram failed to pick up pass rushers.

Lorig’s led to the fumble. He got driven backward by Panthers end Charles Johnson, and Lorig’s swinging arm knocked the ball out of Brees’ hand (though it’s obviously not an ideal matchup for Lorig to be 1-on-1 against Carolina’s best pass rusher on just a four-man pass rush).

Guard Ben Grubbs did get beat on two of the sacks, including the one where defensive end Wes Horton swatted the ball out of Brees’ hands (and Brees was fortunate to recover). And backup right tackle Bryce Harris got beat bad once, forcing a throwaway.

Run game up and down: Ingram had several nice runs while churning out 100 yards and two touchdown on 30 carries -- including runs of 19 and 12. And I particularly liked his second 3-yard TD run, since it came on a draw play out of a passing formation (defenses sometimes look hopeless when the Saints do that). Tight end Benjamin Watson especially stood out to me as a run blocker, and Grubbs had a couple big run blocks as well.

However, the Saints had a total of 12 runs by running backs that went for 1 yard or less. There weren’t too many consistent offenders missing blocks. A variety of linemen, tight ends and receivers each missed one or two throughout the night. It was good that the Saints stubbornly stuck with the run, but they’ll have to be more efficient going forward.

Double-whammy interception: It’s hard to blame Brees too much for his interception on the opening drive, when he fired a hard, low pass toward receiver Kenny Stills that shouldn’t have been considered risky. But cornerback Antoine Cason made a great effort to get his arm in the way and pop the ball in the air, where it fluttered into the waiting arms of defensive tackle Dwan Edwards.

I noted live that Ingram appeared to be open in the flat on that third-and-6 play. But the Panthers had a defender spying him, so Ingram would have had a hard time gaining enough yards to convert the first down.

The most egregious thing that happened on that play, though, was Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis obliterating Graham with a helmet-to-helmet hit under Graham’s chin while the ball was in the air. No flag was thrown, but it was both a helmet-to-helmet hit and possibly an illegal blindside. I wonder if Davis will be fined.

Worth noting: Graham made a great effort to convert a late first down by cutting inside and making safety Roman Harper miss after a short pass. … Stills didn’t deserve any blame on the interception, but he did drop two passes later.
METAIRIE, La. – Jimmy Graham was held out of team drills during the New Orleans Saints’ practice on Wednesday because of his shoulder injury, leaving him highly questionable for Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions.

Meanwhile, running back Mark Ingram fully participated in practice and said he is “full go” with no limitations after missing the past four weeks with a broken hand.

Saints coach Sean Payton declined to offer any specific updates on any of the Saints’ injuries.

Graham was dressed for Wednesday’s practice and participated in some individual work during the limited portion of practice open to the media. But it’s too early in the week to predict whether there’s a chance that he'll play Sunday.

ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported this past Sunday that it’s highly questionable Graham will be ready to play this week after he suffered a shoulder injury in Week 5. Schefter cited a source as saying Graham would not have been able to play last week had the Saints not had a bye. And the Saints signed veteran tight end Tom Crabtree last week as potential depth.

Ingram, meanwhile, looks like he’ll play for the first time since Week 2. And he insisted that the Saints haven’t “babied me or eased me into practice.”

“I’m ready to go, full go, 100 percent, full tilt. I’ve been getting all the (usual amount of) reps in practice,” Ingram said. “I’ve been doing everything, catching, running, blocking. So whatever’s asked of me, I’m ready to do it.”

It’s impossible to predict how much the Saints will use Ingram since fellow running backs Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas were playing so well in his absence. Ingram led that trio in touches when they were all healthy during the first two games, but all three were involved.

“We’ll kind of see how we handle that on Sunday. But obviously we value depth at that position,” Payton said.

Saints center Jonathan Goodwin (knee) also practiced fully on Wednesday. So did fullback Erik Lorig – who had been out since training camp with a significant ankle injury. Goodwin should be fine to play at Detroit, though it’s unclear if Lorig will require more time to get up to full speed.

Nickel cornerback Patrick Robinson (hamstring) and backup linebackers Ramon Humber (ankle) and Kyle Knox (ankle) were also held out of team drills Wednesday.

Saints injuries: Kenny Stills limited

September, 3, 2014
METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints' first injury report of the 2014 season had only three names on it Wednesday. Receiver Kenny Stills was limited in practice with a quad injury. Fullback Erik Lorig (ankle) and safety Marcus Ball (hamstring) did not participate in team drills.

It’s too early to predict Stills’ status for Sunday’s game at the Atlanta Falcons. But it’s possible the Saints might play it cautious with him since he suffered at least two setbacks while trying to recover from the nagging injury throughout the summer. Stills aggravated the quad injury on the first day of training-camp practice, then again during his first preseason game two week ago.

The Saints have plenty of depth at the receiver position if Stills can’t play -- especially after they re-signed veteran Robert Meachem on Wednesday. The Saints also have receivers Marques Colston, Brandin Cooks, Joe Morgan and Nick Toon on the active roster. So it’s possible that one of them could remain inactive on game day.

Lorig has been sidelined for the past month with the ankle injury, and they have never offered any details on the severity or expected recovery time. But it’s a good sign that the Saints decided not to place Lorig on injured reserve.

Ball has been sidelined for about two weeks with the hamstring issue.
METAIRIE, La. -- Austin Johnson went undrafted out of Tennessee in 2012, when he signed as a linebacker with the Baltimore Ravens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"He’s done a great job all camp. Obviously Erik Lorig going down was tough, but Austin has stepped in and done a great job whenever called upon in whatever role, whether that be the fullback position or special teams, you name it," Brees said. "He's one of those lunch-pail guys, comes to work, ready to do whatever's asked of him. He’s done that very, very well."
METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints have never specified the nature of fullback Erik Lorig’s leg injury. But clearly it’s not a minor issue, since Lorig hasn’t even watched a practice in street clothes since first suffering the injury during a scrimmage on Aug. 2.

The fact that the Saints immediately went out and signed veteran fullback Greg Jones was another indicator that they didn’t expect Lorig back quickly.

It’s still unknown when or if Lorig is expected back this season. But coach Sean Payton said the team will prepare as if he’s not going to be ready for Week 1, with Jones and third-year pro Austin Johnson competing to serve as Lorig’s replacement.

"Our preparation's got to be with the idea that, as Erik's rehabbing, we've got to be ready to have a fullback Week 1, with the chance it's not going to be Erik," Payton said. "And so both of those guys are competing.

“Greg’s a veteran player. Austin's been with us now for the better part of a year and a half. And so I think, No. 1, Austin's had a good camp. Greg's been here for two weeks. Both of them will play a lot again this weekend [Saturday night at Indianapolis].”

Payton later added that Johnson is “doing real well.” The 6-foot-2, 240-pounder spent most of last season on the Saints’ practice squad after signing with the team in January 2013. Johnson was actually a linebacker in college at Tennessee, and he signed with the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2012. But he didn’t find a permanent home that season.

Johnson has shown potential as a blocker and receiver out of the backfield, and he could also be used on special teams.

Meanwhile Jones, 33, is a 10-year veteran who spent last season with the Houston Texans and his first nine years with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The 6-1, 251-pounder has primarily served as a lead blocker in 131 career games played. He also has a total of 272 carries for 913 yards and 10 touchdowns in his career, plus 73 receptions for 471 yards and three touchdowns.

Last season, Jones played in all 16 games for the Texans with five starts, with a total of two rushes for 2 yards and five receptions for 34 yards.

The Saints could also use their tight ends as fullbacks in certain situations. Second-year tight end Josh Hill has made some cameos in that role.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Drew Brees took yet another small step toward returning to action Wednesday when he participated in some individual passing drills with the quarterbacks and receivers for the first time. But it still seems extremely unlikely that the New Orleans Saints quarterback will play in Friday’s preseason game against the Tennessee Titans.

Saints coach Sean Payton declined to say whether Brees will play. But Payton has consistently said the team will be smart and cautious with Brees, who strained his oblique on Aug. 1.

Either way, Brees definitely appears as though he’ll be healthy in plenty of time for the start of the regular season. He has increased his workload on a daily basis, including a return to the lineup during the team’s afternoon walk-through on Tuesday, followed by his appearance in individual drills on Wednesday.

Plus, Brees showed some impressive agility while sliding across a makeshift slip-and-slide during his ALS ice-bucket challenge Tuesday.

In other Saints injury news:
  • Guard Ben Grubbs returned to live team drills for the first time Wednesday -- and he dove right in during a spirited set of live goal-line drills. Grubbs said it was a lower back issue that caused him to miss more than a week of training camp practices, but he feels good now and is blessed to have enough time to fully recover before the regular season.
  • Rookie linebacker Ronald Powell left the field with the trainers after hobbling off the field during a play. The details of his apparent injury are unknown. UPDATE: Powell reportedly returned to the field Wednesday afternoon and participated in walkthrough.
  • There was still no sign of fullback Erik Lorig or linebacker Victor Butler at practice. Both players have been sidelined for nearly two weeks, though the Saints have not offered any details on the severity of their injuries.
  • Guard Jahri Evans and cornerback Patrick Robinson made brief appearances on the sideline Wednesday but did not participate in practice. Also not practicing Wednesday: receiver Kenny Stills, linebacker David Hawthorne, tight end Je’Ron Hamm, offensive tackle Ty Nsekhe, cornerback Rod Sweeting and safety Ty Zimmerman.
  • UPDATE: Cornerback Champ Bailey participated in individual drills and the morning walk-through during Wednesday's practice but was reportedly absent from the afternoon walk-through.
The New Orleans Saints signed veteran fullback Greg Jones on Wednesday to help fill the void while starting fullback Erik Lorig is sidelined by a leg injury. The Saints haven’t offered any details on the specifics of Lorig’s injury or any projected timetable.

In the meantime Jones, 33, should be a more-than-capable replacement. The 6-foot-1, 251-pounder is a 10-year veteran who spent his first nine seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars before spending the 2013 season with the Houston Texans. Jones has primarily served as a lead blocker in 131 career games played. But he has a total of 272 carries for 913 yards and 10 touchdowns in his career, plus 73 receptions for 471 yards and three touchdowns.

Last season, Jones played in all 16 games for the Texans with five starts, with a total of two rushes for 2 yards and five receptions for 34 yards.

The Saints also have young fullback Austin Johnson, a roster hopeful who spent most of last season on the practice squad.

The Saints had a roster spot open for Jones after they released three players Tuesday and signed two others.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Quarterback Drew Brees remained sidelined by a left oblique strain during the New Orleans Saints' practice on Monday. But coach Sean Payton described Brees as "day to day" and said the injury is not something that should jeopardize the start of the regular season.

"We'll make sure it's something that can't get aggravated again," Payton said. "When you look at what he does, on a daily basis with regards to torqueing his chest throwing the football, you've just got to be smart it's calmed down. So we'll see day to day. It's the type of thing, though, if you try to all of a sudden force it back, you re-aggravate it. So we'll treat it day to day."

Brees watched from the sideline throughout Monday's practice, then he joined teammates for cool-down runs and signed autographs for the fans.

“I just tweaked my oblique a little bit,” Brees told the NFL Network’s Marshall Faulk. “I’m kind of day-to-day. It’s certainly not something I want to rush back too quickly from because it could be problematic. I want to make sure I am good to go and we’re still in early August here. I am chomping at the bit. I don’t like sitting out. I don’t like watching. I don’t like not playing in the scrimmage or potentially not playing in a preseason game. (Being cautious) is what I have to do.”

It's unclear if Brees will be available for Friday night's preseason opener at the St. Louis Rams. But it seems likely the Saints will consider resting him for that game if they're taking a cautious approach.

The Saints' injury list was longer Monday than it's been at any point in training camp -- not surprising in the aftermath of Saturday's scrimmage.

Fullback Erik Lorig and linebacker Victor Butler were not present at practice, though Payton declined to specify whether their absences were injury-related. Lorig was seen leaving the scrimmage early with an apparent injury.

Cornerback Champ Bailey remained out of practice with an undisclosed injury, but he did make his first appearance on the sidelined since he was injured, spending some time on the stationary bike.

Defensive end Glenn Foster, tight end Je'Ron Hamm and offensive lineman Jason Weaver were new additions to the injury list with unspecified injuries. They watched from the sidelined during practice.

Guard Ben Grubbs, defensive tackle John Jenkins, cornerback Terrence Frederick, offensive tackle Ty Nsekhe and receiver Steve Hull remained sidelined.

Safety Jairus Byrd remained out of full-team drills but did everything else. Receiver Kenny Stills caught some passes but wasn't in full pads.
METAIRIE, La. -- Erik Lorig's most defining trait? His versatility.

The New Orleans Saints' new fullback actually began his career as a defensive end with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after playing both defensive end and tight end at Stanford. The 6-foot-4, 250-pounder is also a special teams asset.

But what will be most intriguing is to see how creative Saints coach Sean Payton decides to use Lorig as a chess piece in the New Orleans' versatile offense.

With Lorig's bigger frame, he could potentially shift from fullback to tight end or vice versa in different formations to try and create mismatches -- something Payton loves to do.

When asked what he feels is his "niche," Lorig said, "I think I can block. I think I can catch. I think I can pass protect. I can do a little bit of everything, and I want to do it at a high level. …

"In this offense, any type of versatility you can offer whether it is playing different positions on the field ... being wide or being in the backfield, all of that is definitely applicable."

So far, the Saints haven't gotten too exotic with their formations during organized team activities and minicamp. But we have seen a few glimpses of Lorig catching passes in the flat out of the backfield and showing fluidity while turning upfield to run. That's something the Saints did on occasion with former fullback Jed Collins, as well.

Lorig's taller frame and versatility are likely big reasons why the Saints decided to sign Lorig and part ways with Collins in free agency. But Payton stressed it was Lorig's skill set as a blocking fullback, first and foremost, that attracted the Saints to him.

Payton said the Saints' scouts and coaches saw Lorig quite a bit last year because they watched a lot of Tampa Bay film while scouting their upcoming opponents during the season.

"It just seemed like we were following Tampa either a week later or two to three weeks later. Nonetheless, they were in the cut-ups (that we watched). And the last half of the season, they ran the ball as well as anyone in the NFL,” Payton said. "I don't know statistically what their numbers were, but we felt like every time we put their offensive tape on, we saw a quarterback that was getting better, an offensive line, and a fullback.

"We really didn't know much about him. We did our offseason homework like we would in free agency, and then you start going back and seeing that he was (a defensive end) converted to fullback. He's a little bigger in stature, so when you watch him play he's very physical. I don't want to say there was a wish list, but it was (a thought that), ‘Let's pay attention and let's see if we can get him on a visit.'

"He and I share the same agent (Don Yee), which was just coincidence. It was interesting how the process worked out, and we are real pleased with how he's progressed. He's big, he's physical, he can catch the football. He's an interesting player, and when you look at his size and some of the production he had last year ... and he's young.”

In four seasons with Tampa Bay -- three of them as a full-time fullback -- Lorig has no rushing attempts and a total of 30 receptions for 193 yards and one touchdown. He played in 37 percent of the Buccaneers' offensive snaps last year, which is almost the exact same ratio as Collins' playing time in New Orleans.
METAIRIE, La. -- Once again, the two players who stood out most to me during the New Orleans Saints' minicamp practice on Tuesday were receiver Nick Toon and running back Travaris Cadet.

Toon did drop one pass, but he made a series of nice catches throughout the day -- including a deep ball from Drew Brees when Toon got behind cornerback Rod Sweeting.

Cadet, meanwhile, showed an impressive combination of speed and elusiveness while being used as both a runner and receiver out of the backfield.

Two disclaimers must be added when it comes to both of these players. For one thing, this is the stage of camp where there is still no live contact or tackling allowed, so it's easier for them to shine. For another thing, both of these players have stood out similarly during the past two offseasons without yet making significant contributions in the regular season.

However, it's noteworthy that both players are still being given a lot of opportunities to work their way into the Saints' rotation -- and so far, they're both taking advantage.

Open competitions:
  • Center Jonathan Goodwin took some snaps with the first-string offense at one point during full-team drills, though Tim Lelito spent most of the practice in that role. That's expected to be an open competition lasting deep into training camp.
  • Cornerback Patrick Robinson again spent some time with the first-string defense in certain drills. Champ Bailey and Corey White also spent time with the first string. All three will get looks at the No. 2 cornerback job across from No. 1 corner Keenan Lewis.
  • I consider veteran Shayne Graham to be a strong front-runner for the kicker job. But he'll have to out-duel young challenger Derek Dimke, who has performed well in the past two preseasons without cracking a roster yet. The media consensus was that Graham went 2-for-3 and Dimke 3-for-3 on filed-goal attempts Tuesday. That battle will likely be based heavily on how they perform in preseason games.
Other highlights:
  • Receiver Kenny Stills made the play of the day, reeling in a pass from Brees with one hand while being blanketed in coverage by safety Kenny Vaccaro. Brees might have been sacked on the play if it was a real game situation. But in this case, he was able to throw the ball up for grabs, and Stills came down with it.
  • The defense won its share of battles, too. Safety Rafael Bush intercepted Brees during 7-on-7 passing drills. The way Bush shot up toward the ball uncontested in the middle of the field, it almost looked like he was the intended receiver. … Vaccaro and Lewis also aggressively broke up passes by Brees.
  • Second-year quarterback Ryan Griffin had some highs and lows as the backup quarterback competition appears to be wide open between him and veteran Luke McCown. Griffin connected on three consecutive TD passes in those 7-on-7 drills. Later, however, he overthrew a pass that was intercepted by safety Marcus Ball in full-team drills.
  • Fullback Erik Lorig looked fluid while running out of the backfield, catching a pass in the flat and turning upfield. That's something fullbacks have always done in the Saints' offense, and Lorig looks like he'll continue that trend -- especially with his bigger size at 6-foot-4.
  • Rookie receiver Brandon Coleman continued to show some inconsistency with at least two drops Tuesday. But he did make his most impressive catch that I've seen yet when he reached to reel in a deep ball near the sideline. It wasn't clear if the ball had sailed too far out of bounds, though.
Below are the details on the New Orleans’ Saints new contracts with offensive tackle Zach Strief (five years, $20 million) and fullback Erik Lorig (four years, $4.8 million), according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Both deals are salary-cap friendly in the first two years, but neither is heavily back loaded. Strief is guaranteed $8.4 million during the first two years. After that the team will have to make a decision if he’s worth a combined $3.5 million in salary and bonuses in 2016 – which he will be if he continues to play at his current level.

Signing bonus: $5.5 million.
2014: Base salary $900,000. Salary-cap cost $2 million.
2015: Base salary $2 million, workout bonus $100,000. Salary-cap cost $3.2 million.
2016: Base salary $1 million, roster bonuses $2.4 million, workout bonus $100,000. Salary-cap cost $4.6 million.
2017: Base salary $1 million, roster bonuses $2.9 million, workout bonus $100,000. Salary-cap cost $5.1 million.
2018: Base salary $1 million, roster bonuses $2.9 million, workout bonus $100,000. Salary-cap cost $5.1 million.

Signing bonus: $1 million.
2014: Base salary $750,000, workout bonus $50,000. Salary-cap cost $1.05 million.
2015: Base salary $750,000, workout bonus $50,000. Salary-cap cost $1.05 million.
2016: Base salary $900,000, roster bonus $100,000, workout bonus $50,000. Salary-cap cost $1.3 million.
2017: Base salary $950,000, roster bonus $150,000, workout bonus $50,000. Salary-cap cost $1.4 million.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- His plan had been to stay in New Orleans.

That was what Jed Collins had been told by the Saints. He had spent the past three seasons there on the active roster. He was living in the city in the offseason and he and his wife -- who is expecting the couple's first child -- had settled there.

Yet on Monday night, things changed in the Collinses' world. The Saints made a move on Erik Lorig from Tampa Bay and told Collins he would not be returning in 2014. A day later, he was on a plane to Detroit and the day after that, he signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Lions.

"I was told throughout the offseason that my home was going to be in New Orleans and I came to find out Monday night that they were moving on and that they felt they had an upgrade at the position," Collins said Wednesday afternoon. "I talked to my family. I've talked to a lot of people and keep telling myself this is the business I'm in. This is, there's no friends in it, this is a win-first and if they feel they got a better player, that's their decision.

"I'm excited about the opportunity to come up here and continue to work on and prove that I'm a top-tier fullback. That's who I believe I am. Even though New Orleans didn't go the way I thought it was going to, sometimes change is the best thing for a person and sometimes it's best for a career."

The Lions were the first team he visited and the only visit he had set up, although he said his agent, Derrick Fox, had been taking calls from other teams. But the Lions made sense to Collins, which is why he signed.

While Collins will be making that change and heading up north, there is a level of familiarity he will have when he arrives for offseason workouts next month.

He knows new Detroit offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi from their time in New Orleans. He had been coached by running back coach Curtis Modkins in Arizona. He knows special teams coach John Bonamego from their mutual time with the Saints.

Essentially every coach he will play for with the Lions, he has been with in some capacity before. So that helped and made Detroit an enticing landing spot when he heard the team would be looking to add a full-time fullback to the roster.

"From the system we had in New Orleans, I think I understand the profile of what they want the fullback to be," Collins said. "Obviously first and foremost, the fullback has to add value to himself everywhere he can, on special teams. Always throughout my career been a special teams guy, get on the field any way possible. But off the field, in the classroom, the fullback has to be a disciplined worker, team-first kind of guy and I try to fit that mold any way I can.

"Offensively, you want the ground-and-pound, you want the tough yards. I think that's what the fullback kind of symbolizes but also a lot of good receivers need a lot of good deep shots and play-action kind of opens that up. So whatever they need, I'm here for, but I know who I am as a player and I think I'm going to fit well."

The Lions clearly did as well, as they brought him almost immediately after he became clearly available. The team had already looked around at other fullbacks, including bringing in Henry Hynoski last week, and Collins was the second fullback to visit.

And that familiarity will be everywhere. Beyond the coaches, Collins played with both Reggie Bush and Joique Bell when they were with the Saints, so even in the same meeting room it will start to look a little bit like New Orleans north.

The playbook might look similar, too, but even from meetings with the staff on Wednesday and his prior knowledge of Lombardi, Collins hinted at changes from what the Saints run.

"He wants to put up points," Collins said. "He wants to control the ball and he wants to have a prolific offense, which he has the skills to do that.

"Will we be the New Orleans Saints offense? I don't think so. I think he will have his personal touches that will make it his own."

He will have a familiar blocking back, though, to help implement it.