New Orleans Saints: Luke McCown

NEW ORLEANS -- Who’s winning the battle for the New Orleans Saints' backup quarterback job?

Depends on when you’re watching. Both players have taken full advantage of their increased opportunities to shine while starter Drew Brees has been sidelined by a strained oblique.

Second-year pro Ryan Griffin seemed to leap ahead during last week’s preseason opener, when he played great after entering the game late in the first quarter at St. Louis.

[+] EnlargeLuke McCown
AP Photo/Bill HaberLuke McCown sizzled for the Saints, tossing two touchdowns in the first half on Friday night.
But then veteran Luke McCown may have looked even better throughout the first half of Friday night’s 31-24 victory over the Tennessee Titans, throwing a pair of TD passes to tight end Jimmy Graham.

But then Griffin came out hot again, connecting on two deep balls to Joe Morgan and TD passes to Mark Ingram and Seantavius Jones. (Griffin should’ve had another deep TD pass to Brandin Cooks that Cooks couldn’t hang on to -- but then again, Griffin also should’ve had an interception that was nullified by penalty).

In other words, these quarterbacks aren’t making the decision easy or obvious for the Saints. It’s one of those things they love to call, “a good problem to have.”

“I thought both Luke and Ryan did a lot of really good things,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “I thought they both located the ball well. … I thought there were a lot of positives to coach off of based on … just first impressions.”

I’ve projected Griffin as the likely winner all summer, because I think his long-term potential gives him the tiebreaker. The way I figure it, the Saints have to keep three quarterbacks if McCown wins the backup job since they don’t want to let Griffin go. But if they can trust Griffin as the backup, they only need to keep two.

But I’ve got to admit, McCown made me doubt myself when he came out so sharp on Friday night -- and spoke so confidently after the game.

“Well, that’s our job,” McCown said when asked about the Saints’ crisp opening TD drive, which included four third-down conversions and completions to four different receivers. “I mean, look, I’m as confident as I’ve ever been playing the game. I thought as an offense we were very fluid, very smooth on that first series, communication was great, guys making plays, getting open. And they brought a series of a couple different pressures that we were able to pick up, capitalize on.

“That’s how you want to start every game. And I fully expect to start every series that way. That’s the kind of mentality you have to have.”

McCown, an 11th-year veteran, is pretty much everything you’d look for in a veteran backup QB. He may as well have come out of central casting.

The 6-foot-4, 217-pounder has bounced around with five different teams, starting nine games along the way. He’s got a strong arm, some veteran savvy. He’s great in the locker room. He’s a lot like the veteran journeyman backup who stepped in and became a surprise star for the Chicago Bears last year -- Luke’s brother, Josh McCown.

McCown’s second touchdown pass to Graham was gorgeous, tucked right between a linebacker and the back line of the end zone. His first TD pass came on the move after he escaped pressure. A third-down completion to Cooks earlier on that first drive came just as he was getting clobbered by a rusher. It might have been the best I’ve ever seen McCown look.

And yet, the one word that doesn’t get used often with the 33-year-old McCown is “upside.”

And that’s the first word you keep hearing when it comes to Griffin, who signed with the Saints last year as an undrafted rookie out of Tulane University, across town in New Orleans.

Griffin, 24, continues to show a combination of poise and confidence that belies his lack of experience. The 6-5, 206-pounder showed off his big arm with those pinpoint deep balls to Morgan (52 and 44 yards). And he should’ve cemented a monster night with a 46-yard TD pass to Cooks. But shockingly, Cooks actually failed to deliver for a change after he cruised behind the secondary and dropped a tough-but-catchable ball.

“He already told me, he came up to me, ‘Alright, I owe you one, I got you,’” said Griffin, who said those deep balls were part of the game plan. “I think Coach wanted to take a few shots early on. The first completion was that one to Joe, and he made a great catch. Then come down and throw it to Mark, I think he made a safety miss. So guys were making plays today.”

Griffin said he felt comfortable playing in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, which was also his home stadium when he played at Tulane. But that was about as close as he came to giving himself any credit.

“Some of those passes today that even were completed, I wish I had better ball placement,” Griffin said, according to the New Orleans Advocate. “... I feel like there’s a lot that I’m yet to show. I still have a lot of things I need to work on. It’s a process.”

Saints Camp Report: Day 15

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
8:25
PM ET
A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New Orleans Saints training camp:
  • The defense dominated a set of live goal-line drills Wednesday -- easily one of the most physical and spirited sessions to date throughout all of training camp. The first-string offense scored only twice on six attempts inside the 3-yard line (or maybe only once; see below). And the second-string offense got shut out on all four of its attempts, including a fumbled snap between center Tim Lelito and quarterback Luke McCown. The two running backs who scored were Khiry Robinson and Travaris Cadet -- both times around the left side. It's hard to pinpoint too many individual standouts in that type of drill without the benefit of replay. But among those who came up big at least twice were defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley with the first-string defense, end Glenn Foster and cornerback Corey White with the second-string defense and left tackle Terron Armstead with the first-string offense.
  • The players themselves wish they had a replay challenge at their disposal since no one could agree whether Cadet scored. Players debated on the field, in postgame interviews and even on Twitter after WWLTV.com's Lyons Yellin posted a video of the play from an inconclusive angle. What was conclusive on that video is that Armstead laid a great block on linebacker Kyle Knox -- who then recovered to make an outstanding hit on Cadet just as he approached the goal line. For what it's worth, I was watching from a direct sideline angle and thought the ball crossed the plane.
  • Nobody needed replay to see rookie receiver Brandin Cooks put on another dazzling display later in team drills. Cooks reeled in a touchdown pass of more than 50 yards from McCown by leaping up and outdueling safety Pierre Warren for the ball. He later ran free behind the third-string defense to catch another deep ball from QB Logan Kilgore. As I've said many times, we really aren't overhyping Cooks. He simply keeps makes the biggest highlights on an almost-daily basis. I didn't think he'd be in a position to catch the deep ball against Warren, but sure enough, he rose to the challenge.
  • The secondary had a few highlights of its own in team drills. Safety Rafael Bush intercepted quarterback Ryan Griffin after linebacker Kevin Reddick popped the ball up (Reddick should've caught it himself). Cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and Stanley Jean-Baptiste each had nice pass break-ups in the end zone during a red-zone drill.
  • Kicker Derek Dimke had a rough day, missing two of his three field-goal attempts. Shayne Graham was a little better, going 3-of-4, including one from 50-plus. But Graham did doink one off the right upright. I still say Graham has the edge if he can show stability throughout the rest of the preseason. The Saints just need to have faith that he can be a solid 80-percent kicker. But Graham hasn't locked down the job yet, and he's competing with both Dimke and kickers who will get cut around the league.
  • The Saints are now done with training camp at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia. They won't practice Thursday as they fly home to New Orleans before Friday's preseason game against the Tennessee Titans. Then they'll remain home for the rest of camp.

Saints Camp Report: Day 13

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
5:35
PM ET
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.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- The New Orleans Saints practiced in steady rain for the first time during training camp Monday. And they didn’t handle it well.

At least six center-quarterback exchanges were botched (with quarterbacks Luke McCown and Ryan Griffin and centers Tim Lelito and Jonathan Goodwin all guilty multiple times). There were also a handful of dropped balls. And coach Sean Payton was especially upset with the overall energy and effort level on a day that was filled with some physical interior running sessions.

"Overall I thought it was kinda sloppy. A lot of balls on the ground. Too much for my liking, or our liking," Payton said. "I thought the short-yardage period was the same way. It was just OK. So probably one of our more flat practices since we’ve been up here. The weather’s not that bad. We’re gonna play in weather like this ..."

McCown
Payton
Payton
When asked after practice if the run drills were "live" -- meaning full contact -- Payton said, "It was live. ... It’s not a good sign when you have to ask if it was live."

The Saints don’t have an indoor practice facility at their new training camp site in West Virginia. So far, they have been lucky that weather conditions have been ideal for more than two weeks. But Payton said he was glad that the Saints had at least one practice session where they could experience the kind of elements they might face on the road.

Obviously the Saints’ uneven road performances were a huge storyline last season. And it has been a big point of emphasis this offseason -- though it didn’t show on Monday.

"(It’s good to have some days like this) because you try to have a wet ball drill day, and it’s not the same. This is more realistic," Payton said. “So more than anything else you want to see how they respond. And, look, we’ve gotta do a better job as coaches. That’s on me and everyone else as well. It was good for us to see it and recognize that we’ve gotta make improvements. ...

"It does affect how you get ready to practice tomorrow. We’ve gotta do a better job, we’ve gotta have a little bit more sense of urgency, and I’m sure we will. We might repeat a drill or two."

The quarterback-center exchanges were the most blatant and most disturbing errors. They have crept up a few times throughout camp with all of the centers and quarterbacks. But it was almost stunning how much they piled up during one set of team drills Monday.

McCown said the quarterbacks and centers spent extra time after practice working on the snaps with no gloves and no towels to get used to it.

"There’s no excuse for it," McCown said. "That falls on veteran leadership of the team, of the offense, specifically myself, Ryan, the quarterbacks and the centers, and making sure we get that handled. There’s gonna be situations where we play in weather like this, and we’ve got to be able to handle that. ...

"And it takes some getting used to, but you’ve gotta be able to do it. So it was inconsistent today and wasn’t good enough today. And I hope it rains tomorrow so we can be better."

Players on offense and defense alike agreed with Payton that Monday’s practice wasn’t good enough. They all felt that same flat energy level -- which can be common at this stage of training camp, but that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable.

"You can feel Sean when he’s kinda aggravated. You can just see it in his face," Saints cornerback Corey White said. "And you don’t want that face, so you’ve gotta pick it up."

One of the few players who seemed unfazed by the conditions was rookie receiver Brandin Cooks, who hasn’t been fazed by anything yet. Cooks caught every ball thrown his way, including a tough low ball near the sideline. And once again, he made a linebacker whiff with a sharp cut that turned into a long gain.

As I joked earlier, we’re still looking for Cooks' Kryptonite, but we haven’t found it yet.

"I played in Corvallis," the former Oregon State star said with a laugh. "It rains like this all the time, so I was kind of used to it. These guys from down South don’t always see this."
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton wasn’t as quick to give the edge to second-year pro Ryan Griffin in the battle to back up quarterback Drew Brees as I was after Griffin’s impressive preseason performance on Friday night.

“I would say he did some good things, and there were some things we tried to clean up (in Sunday’s practice),” Payton said after reviewing the tape and returning to practice Sunday. “He received a good number of snaps. I thought Luke [McCown] played well in his role. I wouldn’t say anything coming off that game in regards to the two of them.

“It is just nice to get them snaps. Obviously without Drew taking any, it’s giving those guys more.”

[+] EnlargeRyan Griffin
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsRyan Griffin remains strongly in the mix to be the primary backup to Drew Brees.
Griffin gave a similar review of his performance, in which he completed 16 of 23 passes for 179 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions while rallying New Orleans to a 26-24 victory over the St. Louis Rams.

As I wrote Saturday, the thing that stood out to me most was Griffin’s poise and decision-making, especially under pressure. But Griffin, naturally, was a lot more nitpicky in his self-evaluation.

“There was some good and there was some bad,” Griffin said. “Every time you look at the film, there’s a lot of things I didn’t do correctly. Some day, stuff like getting a guy lined up, getting a shift, a guy set before I do anything else. So there were a lot of mistakes I need to fix, but there were a lot of positives, too.”

When asked for specific examples, Griffin said, “There was one play that stuck out in my mind that I came right off, and Coach Payton was like, ‘I knew they were rolling to shell right there,’” Griffin said. “I didn’t see that pre-snap, and when we went back and looked at it, he was able to point out what the clues were and the indicator. It’s a process, and I’m trying to pick up on it, but everyone is different. There is no exact same Sam dog [defensive blitz look]. There is no exact same Cover Zero.”

Payton, however, did stress that Griffin’s inexperience won’t prevent him from winning the backup job over the much more experienced McCown.

Griffin split time between the Saints’ practice squad and active roster last year as an undrafted rookie out of Tulane. But he didn’t appear in a game.

“Well that [experience level] can’t change. There’s nothing between now and when we start the regular season that’s gonna change the experience he had a year ago,” Payton said. “Overall we felt like he progressed pretty well for a rookie quarterback. He understands what we’re trying to do. And he like everyone else is working on some of the technique things that come up situationally, in and out of the huddle, all of those specifics that you really only get when you actually play in a game.

“He got a lot of snaps the other night. We’ll continue to give him and Luke plenty of work.”
Ryan Griffin looked great in the New Orleans Saints’ preseason opener Friday night, completing 16 of 23 passes for 179 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions.

What stood out to me most of all was Griffin’s poise and maturity -- the two main reasons why I think the second-year pro is ready to seize the Saints’ backup quarterback job.

[+] EnlargeRyan Griffin
AP Photo/Scott KaneSaints reserve QB Ryan Griffin showed that he can handle pressure in the pocket during Friday's game.
No offense to veteran Luke McCown, who is a great guy, a great fit in the Saints’ locker room and has done nothing to deserve losing his job over the past two seasons. But if Griffin continues to prove he has enough poise and polish to be the No. 2 guy, then the Saints will have the luxury of keeping just two quarterbacks on the roster.

Griffin looked calm, cool and collected after entering Friday’s game late in the first quarter. He led the Saints to three touchdowns and a field goal while rallying them to a 26-24 victory over the Rams.

Most impressive was the way the 6-foot-5, 206-pounder did an outstanding job of handling pressure -- whether it was throwing the ball away when necessary or quickly finding dynamic receiver Brandin Cooks for a 25-yard touchdown play before getting drilled on an all-out blitz.

“First off, the offensive line did a great job all night,” Griffin said after the game. “With the run game and the protection, they were great. On the one play, they happened to bring an all-out blitz. I know I just had to get it out to Brandin, and he did his job, made somebody miss to get in the end zone.”

Another subtle thing that stood out to me with Griffin was the way he pointed out defensive penalties to the officials or the sideline before flags were even thrown on two or three occasions. It reminded me of Drew Brees, who does that all the time because he’s so certain of what he’s seeing on the field.

Like I said, it was a subtle thing. But a lot of those big things and small things alike are adding up to show that Griffin already seems ready to handle the Saints’ backup role in his second season after being signed as an undrafted rookie out of Tulane.

“I think a lot like we talked about after the scrimmage, obviously Luke is a veteran. He’s been around a long time. He’s very comfortable in the huddle and you can feel that kind of confidence. Ryan has turned into that quickly,” Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief said after Friday’s game. “Obviously it’s just his second year, but he’s a sponge. He’s absorbed a lot of information. I think he did a really good job of just getting us in the right place tonight.

“Just watching, knowing what we’re supposed to run things into and what we’re not, he did a good job of getting us into the right play. Obviously he showed a lot of poise on the touchdown pass, standing in, knowing he’s going to get drilled, and he delivered the ball perfectly and gives Brandin a chance to make a play.

“We like both of them a lot, not just as players but as guys. It’s good to see your guys play well and perform how you see them every day.”

No Drew Brees? No problem.

The New Orleans Saints found plenty of offensive firepower Friday in their 26-24 victory over the St. Louis Rams -- most of it provided by running back Mark Ingram and receiver Brandin Cooks.

It wasn't a perfect night by any stretch. Both first-string units had a few hiccups. But the Saints will feel especially good about the way they ran the ball, even without Brees and guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs in the lineup.

Here are some other thoughts on the Saints' first preseason game of the year:
  • I couldn't help but think of the way Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief compared the speed of these playmakers Ingram and Cooks the other day. Strief said Ingram has the kind of speed where you know he's running hard, like a freight train once he gets going. Meanwhile, Cooks has smooth, natural speed that barely looks like it requires any effort.

    Well, both methods made the Rams defense miss Friday night. Ingram broke several tackles en route to 83 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. And Cooks torched a pair of defensive backs with a nasty cut in the open field on a 25-yard touchdown. Cooks finished with five catches for 55 yards.

    Fellow Saints running back Khiry Robinson also ran well, with five carries for 23 yards and a touchdown. Among the guys who provided standout blocks were linemen Tim Lelito, Jonathan Goodwin, Senio Kelemete, Jason Weaver, Thomas Welch and tight end Benjamin Watson.
  • Ryan Griffin won the first round of the backup-QB battle by a landslide. Veteran Luke McCown started the game and did OK, but his night was marred by an ill-advised interception into the arms of blitzing defensive end Chris Long.

    Griffin, meanwhile, continued to show the poise and maturity he's been displaying all summer while completing 16 of 23 passes for 179 yards, a touchdown and no picks. Although Cooks got deserved credit for that touchdown catch, Griffin deserves just as much for absorbing a huge hit as he threw the ball under pressure.
  • Thumbs up: Backup defensive end Tyrunn Walker was outstanding with one sack and at least three other tackles for loss. At one point he made back-to-back run stuffs on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1. ... Glenn Foster, Brodrick Bunkley, Akiem Hicks, Ramon Humber, Rufus Johnson Jr. and rookie linebackers Ronald Powell and Khairi Fortt all stood out for at least one sack or tackle for loss. ... Don't sleep on linebacker Kyle Knox as a roster hopeful. He started on all four special teams, along with tight end Josh Hill and linebacker Kevin Reddick. ... Hill had a big night on offense, too, doing his best Jimmy Graham impression with two catches for 67 yards.
  • Thumbs down: Kicker Shayne Graham isn't a fan of the NFL's 33-yard extra point experiment. He missed one, bouncing it off the left upright. Both Graham and Derek Dimke made matching 37-yard field goals, though. ... Rookie cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste got burned for a 24-yard touchdown pass. He's better in bump-and-run, but he never jammed the receiver and never turned to locate the ball. ... The entire Saints defense got burned on a 16-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter when no one covered tight end Cory Harkey. ... Cornerbacks Rod Sweeting and Brian Dixon also got beat for big plays in the fourth quarter. ... Rookie receiver Brandon Coleman dropped two passes, one of which was intercepted. ... The Saints' third-string offensive line struggled, especially rookie tackle Tavon Rooks.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- With Drew Brees sidelined by an oblique strain, the New Orleans Saints are getting even more of a chance to evaluate second-year pro Ryan Griffin as a potential backup.

Right now, the battle between Griffin and veteran Luke McCown is still too close to call. But if Griffin can prove that he's trustworthy enough to be the No. 2 guy, you've got to think his long-term potential gives him a tie-breaker advantage.

[+] EnlargeRyan Griffin
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsRyan Griffin has been impressive this offseason and is competing for the Saints No. 2 quarterback position.
So far, Griffin has taken advantage of his cameo appearances with the first-string offense. He looked great in Saturday's scrimmage while rotating with McCown. Griffin quickly exploited the opportunity to throw at targets like tight end Jimmy Graham and rookie receiver Brandin Cooks.

As cornerback Keenan Lewis couldn't help but admit, "He definitely whipped us."

And Griffin again looked good while taking the majority of snaps with the first-string offense in Monday's practice (while McCown was limited for an undisclosed reason). Griffin's highlight came on a beautiful touchdown pass to tight end Benjamin Watson in red zone drills, though he also showed some mobility by escaping for a nice gain around the corner.

"I'm trying to (take advantage of the first-team snaps), definitely. Every rep I can get, especially getting in there live with the ones and twos is great. I'm just learning as fast as I can, and just trying to improve," said Griffin, who downplayed the buzz he generated from Saturday's scrimmage.

"Well it never looks as good on film and it never looks as bad," Griffin said. "There's a lot of plays I feel like I could've had better ball placement. There's definitely room for improvement."

Griffin, who joined the Saints as an undrafted rookie out of Tulane last year, did admit that he feels more confident and comfortable in Year 2, though.

"Coming in as a rookie you don't really know what to expect, and so you kind of come in wide-eyed and you have no idea," said Griffin, who also has the benefit of working with his former college position coach, Mike Neu, who is the new Saints' QB coach. "This year I kind of had a general idea of how practice was going and what the tempo was like and how players practice. Just receiving that experience and having a year under my belt really helped. I'm just trying to improve on that and keep moving forward."

I asked Saints coach Sean Payton if the backup quarterback job would be strictly based on which player is more prepared to play in Week 1, or if Griffin's potential for growth could play a factor. Payton didn't specifically answer but said the Saints will absolutely go by what they see on the practice field, rather than rely on past history.

"One thing we have always tried to do here is regardless to how a player has been drafted, whether he signed as a free agent, whether he is 35 or 25, we are going to try to play the best players, keep the best players," Payton said. "We've kept free agents and cut draft picks, and when that happens it empowers your locker room. The same thing would apply with that competition.

"We are going to get a lot of work with those guys, and both of them are handling the reps well. They are both smart. They are both quick studies. Luke certainly is more experienced, and so it is kind of an ongoing process, but it's still real early."

Saints Camp Report: Day 3

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
6:18
PM ET
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New Orleans Saints training camp:
  • The Saints held their first padded practice -- which always has a bit of that Christmas-morning feel for the linemen. Not surprisingly, no one was more exuberant than linebacker Junior Galette, who made several big plays. The first came just two plays into the first 9-on-7 contact drill, when Galette blew up a run play then trash-talked fullback Erik Lorig by yelling, "Block me!" Right tackle Zach Strief then gave Galette a shove as they walked back to the line. But that was the only time any real feistiness broke out.
  • Sunday also marked the debut of my favorite individual drill in camp -- 1-on-1 pass-rush. The drill is designed to favor pass-rushers, so it's often a "win" for the blockers just to hold their man at bay. The guys who stood out most to me were Strief (for holding strong against Cameron Jordan), end Akiem Hicks (for his raw power), linebacker Keyunta Dawson (who beat tackle Bryce Harris twice) and end Glenn Foster. But obviously that's a small sample size. … The battles between Strief-Jordan, Jahri Evans-Hicks and Terron Armstead-Galette were all pretty even.
  • The "old" guys stood out Sunday in a number of the most competitive roster battles: I wrote earlier about how cornerback Champ Bailey made the play of the day. … Quarterback Luke McCown outshined Ryan Griffin. That battle is still wide open, but it was worth pointing out since Griffin has gotten more attention so far. … Kickers Shayne Graham and Derek Dimke both made all their field-goal attempts, but coach Sean Payton gave Graham a vote of confidence by saying he'll be "tough to beat out." … Payton also singled out an intecerption made by backup linebacker Ramon Humber in 7-on-7 drills as "exceptional." … And center Jonathan Goodwin got his first snaps with the first team ahead of Tim Lelito this camp. Then Lelito and McCown fumbled an exchange during team drills.
  • Payton was right. The Saints don't get bad weather. They had beautiful conditions for most of Sunday's practice, squeezing it in before a downpour started. Everyone got drenched, however, during post-practice interviews.
  • Receiver Robert Meachem missed practice after his back locked up Sunday morning, but he shouldn't be out long. Meachem tweeted that he went to the hospital to get checked out but hopes to be back on the field soon. Jairus Byrd, John Jenkins, Kenny Stills and Tavon Rooks remained sidelined. And guard Ben Grubbs sat out for part of practice, but he's been getting a lot of scheduled rest throughout the summer.
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: Drew Brees, Luke McCown, Ryan Griffin, Logan Kilgore

Gone from last year: None

McCown
Key roster battle: The battle for the backup job between McCown and Griffin will be one of the most compelling on the entire roster throughout training camp and the preseason. McCown has the experience and probably a little more of that “trust factor.” But he will need to clearly outshine the younger Griffin to keep his job.

The Saints are very high on Griffin’s long-term potential, so he’s practically a lock to make the roster. And if they feel Griffin is capable of handling the backup job, they only need to keep two quarterbacks, which has been their preference in past years.

Based on what we saw in OTAs and minicamp, it looks like an even matchup, which favors Griffin. But preseason performances will make a huge impact on this battle.
Examining the New Orleans Saints' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)
It’s not easy to cut veteran Luke McCown from this roster. He has been a great fit in the Saints locker room. But if the Saints can trust the younger Griffin in that backup role, they don’t need to keep three quarterbacks.

RUNNING BACKS (5)

I’m going out on a limb and predicting that this is the year an undrafted rookie running back doesn't make the roster (though Timothy Flanders will probably shine in the preseason). All five names on this list are virtual locks, with backup fullback Austin Johnson also a dark horse.

RECEIVERS (6)

I actually think it will be tough for all six of these guys to make the roster. But they have all shown enough in the past to earn the benefit of doubt for now. Morgan is the big wild card. His uncertain health and the addition of fellow speedster Cooks places him firmly on the bubble. But if Morgan shines in camp, he could pass up Meachem or Toon. ... The Saints have some talented undrafted rookie receivers, but the practice squad seems more likely for them.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

This is a spot where I could definitely see an undrafted rookie such as Je'Ron Hamm or Nic Jacobs cracking the roster. But the Saints went with only three tight ends last season, so I'll stick with that for now.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)

The top seven seem pretty safe. After that, it's wide-open for one or two more backup spots. I'll go with the rookie Rooks for now because the Saints invested a sixth-round pick in him and like his growth potential. But former draft pick Marcel Jones and undrafted rookie Matthew Armstrong are among several other possibilities.

DEFENSIVE LINE (7)

The top six are about as safe as it gets. Johnson’s future is uncertain, but the second-year pro has great athleticism and potential. And now he’s being cross-trained as a defensive lineman, which adds versatility for the pass-rusher. Veteran Brandon Deaderick is a more experienced possibility for depth.

LINEBACKERS (9)

My most difficult cut on the defense was veteran outside linebacker Keyunta Dawson, whom the Saints really liked last season and re-signed this offseason. I also like pass-rusher Kyle Knox as a dark horse. But this is suddenly such a crowded group with the arrival of enticing rookies Fortt and Powell.

CORNERBACKS (6)

This position is even deeper. Six cornerbacks is a lot, but it’s hard to cut any one of these guys at this point. And I still had to leave off some talented candidates such as Trevin Wade, Terrence Frederick and Derrius Brooks.

SAFETIES (4)

These four seem like a pretty safe bet. But this is another spot where an undrafted rookie such as Pierre Warren or Ty Zimmerman could earn his way into the mix, especially if he shines on special teams.

SPECIALISTS (3)

The only competition is at kicker, where Graham will have to fend off young contender Derek Dimke.
Thanks for all of your New Orleans Saints questions on Twitter this week. Send ‘em my way anytime @MikeTriplett:

METAIRIE, La. -- The local media caught up with New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees for the first time this offseason on Wednesday night during teammate Ben Grubbs’ charity softball game.

Brees
Click here for Brees’ thoughts on going through the offseason without tight end Jimmy Graham. And click here for his explanation of why he’s taken such a passionate stance against the proposed workers compensation bill in Louisiana.

Here are a few other topics Brees discussed:

On how fired up he is for OTAs next week: “Really excited. Hey, we’ve been working out in the weight room long enough. Now it’s time to get to some actual football. Looking forward to just kind of diving back into the playbook and getting on the field and seeing some of these young guys and how they’ve developed in the offseason. We’ve been able to spend some time together, throwing around and just kind of talking through concepts and scenarios and situations. And this is what helps prepare you for training camp and then into the season. Looking forward to when [rookie receiver] Brandin Cooks can be here – I know he’s got some school to finish up first. But yeah, just excited for another start.”

On adding Cooks, especially after losing weapons like Darren Sproles and Lance Moore this offseason: “Yeah, it’s awesome. I mean, we traded up to get this guy. So that tells me a lot about how we feel about this guy. Not only his talent and his skill set, but also just the type of guy he is. From all accounts, he’s just a phenomenal person, a great teammate, extremely hard, tough work ethic, and just a character guy. Fits in perfect in our locker room and loves football. We love those guys.”

On beating defensive end Tyrunn Walker on Wednesday to reclaim the home run derby title after losing out to backup quarterback Luke McCown last year: “It’s good. It’s good that it came home. It stays within the quarterback group, which is good. I think we have four or five in a row at this point. I know this, Luke McCown has his trophy from last year literally right above his locker. I stared at it every day, and it just ate at me. And I said as soon as we get this opportunity again to settle the score, I’m going to reclaim it. So now I’m gonna set mine next to his. And I think this year’s trophy is a little bigger, so it’s gonna stand a little bit taller than his.”
A position-by-position look at the New Orleans Saints' draft needs, ranked in order of importance from 1-12:

Current depth chart:
Drew Brees, signed through 2016
Luke McCown, signed through 2014
Ryan Griffin, signed through 2015

Draft possibilities: This shouldn't be a high priority for the Saints in the draft. Brees should have at least three or four great years left in him -- if not more -- so it's too early for the Saints to invest heavily in a future replacement plan.

And the Saints like second-year pro Griffin, who will battle for the backup job this year and could potentially follow a career path like former Saints backup Chase Daniel. However, Sean Payton said recently the Saints are always on the lookout for talent at quarterback since it's the most important position on the roster. So if they see great value in a mid-round or late-round pick, it wouldn't be surprising to see them grab a young QB to battle Griffin for that role.

Previous entries:
No. 12 Kicker/punter

Saints re-sign backup QB McCown

March, 26, 2014
Mar 26
2:00
PM ET
The New Orleans Saints agreed to terms Wednesday on a one-year deal with veteran backup quarterback Luke McCown. Terms were not disclosed.

McCown
The deal makes perfect sense, considering the Saints were happy with McCown in that role last year. However, he'll have to beat out second-year pro Ryan Griffin if he wants to hold onto the job in training camp.

The Saints are high on Griffin's potential after signing him as an undrafted rookie last year from Tulane. Griffin played in college under former Saints receivers coach Curtis Johnson. And Griffin's former college position coach, Mike Neu, is now the Saints' new quarterbacks coach.

Head coach Sean Payton broke down New Orleans' quarterback outlook earlier Wednesday morning at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando, Fla., when he was asked when the Saints will consider seeking a future replacement for Drew Brees.

"No. 1, we're always in the business of developing young players. They come in all rounds, too," Payton said. "You know, Ryan Griffin from Tulane was a free agent last year, really impressed a lot of us. Luke McCown has a clear role and is someone that we'd like to sign back.

"So I don't know that you go into a draft and say, 'Alright, put on your gloves guys, this is it.' But you are paying attention to that market, that specific position market, each year. Because it's a little bit like that high-end delicatessen item that doesn't come in every day. So you're always waiting to make sure that something's not on the shelf. ..."

Payton continued: "And we're fortunate to have a player like Drew [in the meantime]. You either have one or you're always looking for one. And then I think it's important that that constant development or vision of developing one exists."

My personal opinion -- it's still too early for the Saints to invest a high draft pick on a young quarterback. Brees should have at least three good years left in him, if not more. So a draft pick this year would practically be due for free agency by the time the Saints are ready to make a switch.

McCown, 32, won the Saints' backup job last summer over fellow veteran Seneca Wallace. But he only attempted one pass all season (an ill-fated fake field goal attempt). McCown was also in Saints camp in 2012, but he lost the job to former backup Chase Daniel and wound up with the Atlanta Falcons that year.

The journeyman has made nine career starts during a 10-year career spent with Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, Atlanta and New Orleans. He has a total of 2,035 passing yards, nine touchdown passes and 14 interceptions.

There's always hope for a late renaissance, though. And he need look no further than his own brother for inspiration. Luke's older brother Josh had a breakout year with the Chicago Bears last season at age 34, and now he has signed on to become the projected starter for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

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