New Orleans Saints: khairi fortt

Saints Camp Report: Day 13

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New Orleans Saints training camp:
  • Are people tired of hearing about Brandin Cooks' daily exploits yet? I honestly don't think that we in the media are over-hyping the Saints' rookie receiver. He simply makes one or two of the biggest plays on the practice field every day. As quarterback Luke McCown said Monday, "He's got next level speed ... and quickness. We find him in positions where he's just separating from guys regularly." That was absolutely the case again Monday during an otherwise-sloppy practice in the rain. As Cooks said, he's from Corvallis, Oregon, so he's used to this weather. Cooks had two breakaway plays for big gains on short passes -- once cruising about 75 yards for a touchdown on a screen pass. Cornerback Keenan Lewis valiantly gave chase the whole way but didn't really have a chance. "He's a special player," McCown said. "I think that's easily recognized for any amount of time you spend watching him. He's a smart, heady player that you only have to teach a certain route or step or technique once, and he's got it down, and he begins to operate like a veteran. So the sky's the limit for that kid."
  • Two other rookies who haven't made an overwhelming amount of highlights during camp had arguably their biggest moments to date Monday -- safety Vinnie Sunseri and linebacker Khairi Fortt. Sunseri made a great diving interception during full-team drills (after Fortt probably would have had a sack on the same play if they were live tackling). Sunseri also broke up a deep pass intended for tight end Josh Hill. Fortt also had another would-be sack.
  • While we're on the subject of guys operating in the shadows, I'll give a little love to defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley and linebacker Parys Haralson. Bunkley had a great run stuff early in practice to add to his sack from the other night in the preseason game. Although Bunkley hasn't made quite the impact the Saints were hoping for when they signed him in 2012, he was probably playing his best football yet in New Orleans during the second half of last season. Haralson, meanwhile, has stormed inside for would-be sacks on each of the past two days of practice in full-team drills.
  • Monday's practice made me second-guess my decision to add undrafted rookie tight end Nic Jacobs to my projected 53-man roster in place of receiver Joe Morgan. Jacobs had a rough practice, dropping one pass and having a ball stripped away from him by safety Pierre Warren after a catch. But then again, it's the 6-foot-5, 269-pounder's prowess as a blocker and special teams asset that made me put him on the 53-man roster in the first place. … Meanwhile, Morgan had two great catches in practice Monday -- especially impressive on a rainy day. As I said Monday morning, I'm not ruling Morgan out of the battle against Nick Toon and Robert Meachem for the fourth or fifth receiver jobs by any stretch. I just don't think the Saints will keep all three of those veteran receivers, so I decided to omit Morgan.
  • The Saints could get a chance at a do-over in the rain Tuesday. There's more rain in the forecast for their scheduled 8:50 a.m. ET practice. They also have a walk-through scheduled for 4:30 p.m.
A position-by-position look at the New Orleans Saints' 90-man roster heading into the start of training camp. Players report on Thursday and will hold their first practice Friday at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia.

Current depth chart:

Outside linebacker: Junior Galette, Parys Haralson, Victor Butler, Keyunta Dawson, Ronald Powell, Kyle Knox, Chidera Uzo-Diribe, Kasim Edebali, Marcus Thompson
Inside linebacker: Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne, Ramon Humber, Kevin Reddick, Khairi Fortt, Todd Davis

Gone from last year: OLB Will Smith, ILB Jonathan Vilma, ILB Will Herring

Key roster battles: Lots of them! This is among the toughest position groups to project on the entire roster since it's so deep now with Butler returning from injury and Fortt and Powell being added in the draft. At least one or two very good linebackers won't make the team. But it's still too early to predict whether that could be a proven veteran or a young talent.

Technically, you could say that Haralson and Butler are battling for the No. 2 starting job at outside linebacker across from Galette. But they really play different roles, with Haralson more of a run defender and Butler more of a pass-rush specialist. The bigger question I have is whether we'll actually see four linebackers on the field together much this year now that the Saints have so many more options.

Last season, the Saints essentially used a 4-2-5 formation as their base package, and I expect a lot of the same this year. But if Butler delivers on his potential as a dynamic pass-rusher -- or if young athletes Powell and Fortt earn significant playing time early -- we could see some tweaks.
The New Orleans Saints signed rookie linebacker Khairi Fortt to a four-year contract on Monday, meaning they have now signed all six of their draft picks. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Fortt is a fourth-round pick from Cal who is expected to compete for snaps at the weakside inside linebacker spot, as well as special teams.

Draft picks around the NFL have begun signing their contracts much more rapidly since the league instituted a rookie wage scale in 2011. But the Saints especially have been ahead of the curve this year.
METAIRIE, La. -- Some leftover news and notes from the New Orleans Saints' draft weekend:

QBs considered: General manager Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton both said the quarterback position didn't rank among the Saints' top priorities in the draft. But Payton said the Saints talked about Georgia's Aaron Murray, Alabama's AJ McCarron and LSU's Zach Mettenberger as they fell into the fifth round.

“Those three players were guys we looked closely at and began to see a value once it got into the later rounds, that our grades were maybe a little bit better than where they were selected,” Payton said. “They were in the discussion and talked about.”

Surprise pick: On the flip side, the Saints' sixth-round draft pick, offensive tackle Tavon Rooks, was so far off the radar among draft analysts that Rooks himself admitted, “I didn't think I was getting drafted.”

“I thought [Kansas State teammate] Cornelius Lucas, he was the most talked about offensive tackle. I thought all the offensive line coaches wanted him, so it was a shocker to me,” said Rooks, who was asked if he thought the phone call he received from Payton might be a prank.

“To tell you the truth, I did when Coach Payton called me the first time,” Rooks said. “I was like, ‘Coach Payton?' No, this is not him.'”

That doesn't mean Rooks was a total reach. The Saints obviously had him rated highly enough to draft him there. And they didn't have a seventh-round pick, so they decided not to risk missing out. Payton said the Saints like Rooks' athleticism and his ability to grow into his frame. He was listed at 280 pounds last year, though he said he eventually worked his way up to 305.

X's and O's: A couple of the Saints' rookies talked about how heavy the focus was on X's and O's talk with Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan during some pre-draft interviews. Fourth-round pick Khairi Fortt said that was especially true during his 15-minute session with the Saints at the scouting combine.

Fortt said most teams spent time talking about his background (which included a knee injury and a school transfer).

“They brought me in, had me sit down and went over like 10 to 15 plays that they do on defense, and they had me write them up on a sheet of paper,” Fortt said. “That was pretty mind-boggling because they were asking me pretty wild questions while I was doing it. …

“Most of the other interviews they asked me about my life, why I changed schools. (With the Saints) it was more straight to the point, ‘What can you do from this point on?' The past is the past and we want to see what you can do.'"

Fortt wasn't too surprised by Ryan's approach, though. He said he knew a lot about the Saints already since he's been close friends with New Orleans defensive tackle John Jenkins since about the 10th grade.

Insider knowledge: Speaking of longtime friendships, Loomis and Oregon State coach Mike Riley go way back because of their Oregon roots.

“Mike was a high school player in Corvallis, when I was growing up in Eugene. He was a really good player -- and I wasn't -- in all sports,” Loomis cracked.

Riley also later served as the Saints' defensive backs coach for a year in 2002. But Loomis said those ties didn't play a big role in the Saints' selection of receiver Brandin Cooks in Round 1 since he was such an obviously good choice on all fronts.

Riley's review: The Times-Picayune's Jeff Duncan caught up with Riley for his thought on Cooks landing in New Orleans.

Good marriage: Also, ESPN columnist Jeffri Chadiha ranked the Saints-Cooks pairing as one of the best “marriages” in this year's draft.

Cooks' schedule: According to Payton, Oregon State is one of the colleges on a quarters system, which means Cooks will have to miss some time during OTAs. He will be able to attend this weekend's rookie minicamp, however. And he will join the Saints in June for many of their offseason practices.

Worth repeating: Saints fifth-round pick Vinnie Sunseri on going from Alabama to LSU's backyard: “It wouldn't be right if I didn't catch a little bit of grief, but hopefully I can win them over whenever I hit a couple people during the season.”

Worth repeating II: ESPN analyst Louis Riddick on Twitter after Sunseri was picked: “Think of how Rob Ryan used Vaccaro and even Harper when he was there. Then think about Sunseri's game. Makes a ton of sense.”

Jersey numbers: Cooks will wear No. 10 for the Saints. Cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste will wear No. 33, Fortt No. 54, Sunseri No. 43, linebacker Ronald Powell No. 56 and Rooks No. 74.
METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints didn't make much of a splash on the final day of the draft Saturday. No big-name players. No quarterbacks. Probably no one that will come in and compete for a starting job right away.

But by my count, the Saints did wind up addressing five of their top six needs in this year’s draft class. Not bad.

Here’s how I had them ranked heading into the draft:

1. Receiver: Check. The Saints traded up to snag dynamic Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks in Round 1. I obviously loved the pick, based on my previous recaps.

2. Cornerback: Check. They drafted a big, long-armed corner in Nebraska’s Stanley Jean-Baptiste in Round 2.

3. Center/guard: Nope. That’s the one spot the Saints missed out on. Coach Sean Payton said it wasn’t a deep class for centers, and the grades just never matched up. The Saints are high on Tim Lelito's potential, though, and there’s still a strong chance they’ll bring in veteran Jonathan Goodwin for competition.

4. Outside linebacker: Check. They drafted Florida’s Ronald Powell in Round 5. He's not purely a pass-rush specialist, but that’s one of his skills. And Payton said they envision him as a strong-side outside linebacker to start with (Parys Haralson's current job). Powell is a tremendous athlete who was rated as the No. 1 high school player in America by ESPNU four years ago before battling some inconsistency and a torn ACL in 2012. His upside is intriguing.

5. Inside linebacker: Check. Cal’s Khairi Fortt in Round 4. Payton said the Saints envision him as a weakside inside linebacker (David Hawthorne’s current role). He’s another guy who is still more potential than production after missing the 2012 season because of knee surgery (not an ACL, and not expected to be a lingering issue). But he's another impressive athlete who can help on defense and special teams.

6. Offensive tackle: Check. Kansas State right tackle Tavon Rooks (Round 6) wasn’t high among scouting analysts heading into the draft. But the Saints liked what they saw from his athleticism and his potential to grow into his frame. He'll be battling backups such as Bryce Harris and Marcel Jones for a roster spot.

BONUS: I didn’t rank special teams coverage as an individual category. But the Saints got a nice boost in that area with all four of their defensive draft picks -- especially Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri in the fifth round. Sunseri is a strong-safety type who could also potentially see the field in a role similar to former Saints/Alabama safety Roman Harper as a blitzer and in run support.