New Orleans Saints: nick toon

Saints’ Camp Report Day 14

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New Orleans Saints training camp:
  • Coaches and players were much more pleased with the effort and energy during Tuesday’s practice after Sean Payton called the team out for having its flattest performance to date on Monday. The Saints held another physical short-yardage session, and you could hear the pads popping and players shouting throughout. “I thought it was better from both sides. When they are arguing over whether you made it or not (it’s a good sign),” Payton said. “We’ll look at it on tape and try to grade each one. But I thought it was more competitive. Definitely more lively.” Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan felt the same way -- also a good sign when both sides are happy. “This was much more like it,” Ryan said. “We liked the hitting there.”
  • Unfortunately we didn’t have a great angle during that session, so it’s hard to point out which individuals stood out. But the first-string defense started strong with two run stuffs, followed by a first-down conversion by the offense on the third try. ... Later in practice, the defensive line appeared to load up on would-be sacks (if they were live-tackling quarterbacks), with Cameron Jordan, Parys Haralson, Tyrunn Walker, Glenn Foster, Rufus Johnson and Kasim Edebali among those bringing pressure. So all in all, it was a standout day for the defensive front seven.
  • The offensive star of the day was probably wide receiver Nick Toon, who made a couple nice catches, including a deep ball from Ryan Griffin against tight coverage by cornerback Stan Jean-Baptiste. Jean-Baptiste ran stride for stride down the field with Toon but wasn’t able to locate the ball in the air -- similar to what happened in the preseason opener. Jean-Baptiste is still maturing, though, and he rallied back with two pass break-ups, including one against Toon.
  • The Saints were visited by another golf superstar Thursday, when Sir Nick Faldo watched practice and broke down the team afterward. Whatever he said had the team cracking up, and offensive tackle Zach Strief said they tried to invite him to the rookie talent show later that night. Like previous training camp guest Bubba Watson, Faldo has a home in The Greenbrier area in West Virginia where the Saints are training. “That was a pretty cool deal,” Strief said. “I’ve never met a knight before, so that was pretty awesome. He wasn’t dressed exactly how I thought my first knight would be dressed. But you talk about a guy who won six majors, (40) tournaments, that’s a pretty impressive pedigree.”
  • Wednesday will be a bittersweet day for the Saints -- their last day of practices at The Greenbrier. A full practice is scheduled for 8:50 a.m. ET, followed by a 4:30 p.m. walkthrough. The cool temperatures and top-notch facilities have been widely praised by everyone in the organization, and they’re excited about returning in future years. But players said they’re also eager to return home, starting with their debut in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Friday night.

Saints Camp Report: Day 5

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New Orleans Saints training camp:
  • Another day, another "wow" moment for rookie Saints receiver Brandin Cooks. At some point, I'm going to have to borrow a Sean Payton term and start "de-recruiting" Cooks instead of continuing to pump him up. But that's hard to do when he keeps making eye-popping plays. This time Cooks took a screen pass from Drew Brees and shot past a couple hapless defenders for a touchdown. Cooks also showed off some receiving skills on a nifty back-shoulder catch from Brees, among other highlights. "That was awesome. ... I think that just gives you a taste of what we have in him," Brees said of the screen play. "(Some people) are straight-line fast but not real quick or they have long strides or short-area quickness but not long speed. This guy has it all. He's got short-area quickness, great transition ability and phenomenal straight-line speed."
  • Fellow receiver Nick Toon has also continued to impress throughout training camp. The third-year pro sprung free for one deep ball and went up high to pluck another pass out of the air. It was just another typical practice for Toon this summer as he has probably racked up more catches in team drills than any receiver in camp. ... Of course Toon has looked good in training camps past, and his job this year will be to prove that it can translate onto the field. But Brees, for one, sees Toon playing more "natural" with more "confidence."
  • I've said over the past couple days that 1-on-1 pass-rush drills are my favorite individual segment in camp. But I specifically like watching the daily battles between guard Jahri Evans and defensive end Akiem Hicks. They're both so strong, it's like the irresistible force vs. the immovable object. Credit Evans for holding his own so far in a drill that's designed to favor the defense, but they both look good.
  • Safety Jairus Byrd wasn't the only one back from injury Tuesday. Receiver Robert Meachem (back) and offensive tackle Tavon Rooks (back) also returned from injuries. … Among other highlights from Wednesday's session: an interception by cornerback Terrence Frederick on an overthrown deep ball by Luke McCown; a huge run block by right tackle Thomas Welch that upended safety Vinnie Sunseri; and a great pass break-up deep down the field by Corey White against QB Ryan Griffin at the end of practice.
  • No practice Wednesday. Players will have their first off-day of camp after five straight days of practice. They'll be back on the field Thursday morning.
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: Marques Colston, Kenny Stills, Brandin Cooks, Robert Meachem, Nick Toon, Joe Morgan, Andy Tanner, Charles Hawkins, Brandon Coleman, Seantavius Jones, Steve Hull

Gone from last year: Lance Moore

Key roster battle: I've got Colston, Stills and Cooks written in ink. Then two or three others could make the roster beyond that. However, the most important battle is for the No. 4 receiver job, since the Saints typically keep only four receivers active on game days (not counting special teams specialists).

If Morgan returns to full health and full speed, it will set up a fascinating three-way race between Meachem, Toon and Morgan. None of those three guys wants to get stuck as the fifth inactive receiver -- or worse, miss the roster entirely. In a way, it's "make or break" time for both Toon and Morgan to prove they can consistently deliver on their potential.

The Saints' history also shows they're willing to reserve an extra "redshirt" roster spot for a younger receiver with potential, so all of these guys will be worth watching for different reasons.
METAIRIE, La. -- Yeah, it’s probably fair to label this as a “make or break” year for New Orleans Saints receiver Nick Toon.

The third-year pro is out of redshirt eligibility now after missing his rookie year with a foot injury and spending most of last season as the inactive fifth receiver. Now he needs to turn his potential into production.

However, it’s important to stress that last season was not a make or break year for Toon.

Even though he struggled in his one big audition against the New York Jets last season, the Saints are still very high on Toon’s potential and consider him a young player on the rise -- something coaches Sean Payton and Henry Ellard and general manager Mickey Loomis have all stressed this offseason.

[+] EnlargeNew Orleans' Nick Toon
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsNick Toon has four receptions for the Saints, but hopes to earn a bigger role in the offense this year.
Toon has continued to shine during these summer practices, and he has a great shot of earning that No. 4 receiver job in a battle with the likes of Robert Meachem and Joe Morgan.

“I think that what was challenging last year was just our numbers (at the receiver position). ... It was hard to get him on the field,” Payton explained. “I would expect him to play a bigger role for our offense this season. I thought he played real well in his opportunities last year in training camp. He’s doing well here in this offseason. His progress is important to us. With the loss of a number of players, particularly Lance Moore, I think you’ll see more snaps for him and more opportunities.

“I’m sure he sees himself as a guy that is going to be not just in the mix to play receiver, but in the mix to get plays for him. He is doing real well.”

Toon (6-foot-4, 218 pounds) did have an excellent performance in the preseason last year. Unfortunately, he is probably remembered best for his performance in that Jets game, when he dropped two key passes in the first half -- one of which could have resulted in a touchdown on a deep ball, and the other which resulted in an interception after he tipped it up.

Toon played extensively in that game because starter Marques Colston was injured. And it was definitely a missed opportunity for the young receiver -- in the place where his father, Al Toon, used to be a star receiver for the Jets, of all places.

If Toon had shined in that game, then the Saints might have felt forced into putting him on the field more -- like what happened late in the year with rookie running back Khiry Robinson.

However, the fact that Toon went back to the inactive list soon after that game was not an indication that he was being punished or demoted.

“I think everything’s a learning experience,” said Toon, who said he didn’t dwell too much on that missed opportunity last season. “You know, last year was what it was, and I learned a lot last year, and it’s helped me transition into this year. And I feel I’ve had a great start thus far.

“You know, we’ve got a long way to go to get ready for the season. But I’m really looking forward to this year.”

Toon said he believes he needs to seize his opportunity this year -- but he said, “I think that’s every year.”

“You can’t ever go into any year thinking that you have time to waste,” said Toon, who was drafted in the fifth round out of Wisconsin in 2012 before landing on injured reserve with a nagging foot injury. “This is a competitive league. This is the best players in the world at this level. So you can never stop getting better, you can never stop improving, and every day is a new opportunity.”

Toon’s path to playing time isn’t really any clearer than it was a year ago. Even though the Saints released Moore, they drafted receiver Brandin Cooks in the first round. So Colston, Kenny Stills and Cooks are virtually locks for the top three receiver spots.

That leaves Toon battling veteran Meachem (a guy who passed up Toon last season when the Saints re-signed him in Week 1) and Morgan (a guy who did seize his own opportunity with a strong performance in 2012 before suffering a major knee injury last year).

But Toon insisted that he’s not focused on breaking down the other receivers and where he fits in the hierarchy.

“My job is to go out there and do what I do to the best of my ability,” Toon said. “And the rest is up to the coaching staff, and it’ll all play out like it’s supposed to.”
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.
METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints’ OTA practice on Thursday was open to the media. Here’s my quick take on the observations that stood out most:

[+] EnlargeStanley Jean-Baptiste
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsRookie cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste has impressed the Saints during offseason workouts.
Crowded CB battle: It looks like the competition for jobs behind No. 1 cornerback Keenan Lewis will be wide open this summer. Last week, we saw Patrick Robinson working with the first-string defense. Today, both Champ Bailey and Corey White were out there with the 1s while they spent most of team drills in nickel defense. Rookie Stanley Jean-Baptiste also rotated in with the first-stringers at times, while Robinson worked with the second string.

Jean-Baptiste looked pretty good out there, including a play when he stuck with speedy, small receiver Charles Hawkins deep down the field, forcing Drew Brees to throw incomplete. Jean-Baptiste will need time to develop this summer, but he hasn’t looked too raw or lost out there at all. Defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff spoke highly of his progress after practice.

Toon looks solid: Third-year receiver Nick Toon had a nice practice, including one catch he had to reach up and pluck out of the air. As I’ve written since the middle of last season, I still think the Saints are high on Toon’s potential, even though he struggled during his brief opportunity for playing time last year while filling in for injured veterans.

Coach Sean Payton stressed Thursday that the Saints still have high expectations for Toon, and he could have an opportunity to play a significant role this year.

A lot of fans seem eager for the Saints to move on from Toon and maybe replace him with undrafted rookie big man Brandon Coleman. But so far Coleman looks like he may need some time to develop. He dropped a pass Thursday, though it’s obviously an extremely small sample size so far.

Lots of Cadet: It felt like Travaris Cadet was getting the lion’s share of the workload among the Saints’ running backs Thursday, both when the Saints were doing run plays and passing plays. He stood out even more than usual since the Saints aren’t doing any live tackling in practice at this stage of the offseason, but he still showed some speed and nifty elusiveness at times.

I think Cadet clearly ranks fourth in the pecking order at running back behind Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson. But he could indeed play a much greater role in this offense now that Darren Sproles has been traded to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Goodwin’s return: Veteran center Jonathan Goodwin was back on the field after signing his contract earlier this week. He was working with the second-team offense, while Tim Lelito remained with the first string. But Payton said it will be an open competition for the job this summer.

Goodwin is obviously thrilled to be back in New Orleans, where he played from 2006-10 before leaving for a more lucrative deal with the San Francisco 49ers. Goodwin said he considers New Orleans his second home and that leaving was one of the toughest decisions he’s ever made. He said he even changed his mind twice at the time, telling the 49ers he was coming, then telling them he wasn’t, then switching back.

Other depth chart notes: Quarterback Ryan Griffin worked with the second-string offense throughout practice, but neither he nor Luke McCown stood out much, for better or for worse. The secondary had a nice practice, in general, denying anything from being completed deep. But the practice was mostly filled with run plays and shorter passes.

Second-year outside linebacker Rufus Johnson appeared to be working as a 3-4 defensive end for much of the practice, signaling either a possible position change or a versatile role.

Kenny Stills, Hawkins and running back Derrick Strozier took turns fielding punts, but it was more of a punt-coverage drill than a return drill, so it’s still unclear what the pecking order will be there. Rookie receiver Brandin Cooks is expected to be the No. 1 guy there when he returns to practice later this month. Cooks is not allowed to practice yet since his school, Oregon State, is still in session.

Injuries/roll call: Safety Jairus Byrd was watching from the sideline after having back surgery last week. Payton said he’s still expected to be ready for the start of training camp this summer. Defensive tackles John Jenkins and Tyrunn Walker remain sidelined with an undisclosed ailment. Receiver Joe Morgan was still working off to the side as he rehabs from last year’s knee injury.

Also not participating for undisclosed reasons: Receiver Steve Hull, linebacker Cheta Ozougwu and nose tackle Moses McCray.

And as expected, tight end Jimmy Graham was not present since he is still unsigned.

Saints mailbag: Back in line?

May, 24, 2014
May 24
Thanks for all of your New Orleans Saints questions on Twitter this week. Send ‘em my way anytime @MikeTriplett.

The New Orleans Saints' wide receiver position is suddenly overloaded with talent. Not only did the Saints add dynamic receiver Brandin Cooks with their first-round draft pick, but they also added intriguing prospect Brandon Coleman as an undrafted free agent.

In other words, some good players won't make the cut this year.

The Saints now have at least eight candidates with a legitimate shot to make the active roster this year -- and they'll probably be battling for only five or six roster spots.

Typically, only four receivers are active on game days, unless another is called up in a specific special teams role (like Courtney Roby in years past). And the Saints usually keep a fifth and possibly sixth receiver around in "redshirt” roles based on their future potential.

[+] EnlargeRutgers TD
Andrew Mills/USA TODAY SportsUndrafted rookie free agent Brandon Coleman could make his way onto the Saints final 53-man roster.
A veteran like Robert Meachem, for example, will need to earn one of those top four spots to make the roster. A rookie like Coleman, however, could stick around as a sixth receiver if the Saints don't want to risk losing him.

Here's a look at the Saints' current depth chart, ranked in order of how likely I think they are to make the 53-man roster:

1-3. Marques Colston, Kenny Stills, Brandin Cooks. All are locks. No need to discuss them.

4. Nick Toon. After those three, I think Toon has the best chance to make the roster. The Saints are still high on Toon's potential, even though he failed to take advantage of his midseason opportunity for playing time while Lance Moore was injured last year. And I don't believe Toon was in the "doghouse” when he got benched during the second half of the season. He was the fifth receiver, and the Saints typically keep only four active on game days.

However, Toon will have to make sure he proves in training camp that he's ready to step up into a greater role -- and that he indeed could be an eventual successor to fellow big man Colston. Otherwise, the Saints might turn their attention toward someone like Coleman in that "redshirt” role.

5. Robert Meachem. I think Meachem has at least a 50-50 chance of making the roster. But like I said above, he must earn one of the top four spots and be considered essential on game days. That's possible, since Meachem is the best blocker on the Saints' roster and a savvy veteran who knows the offense. But if someone like Toon or Morgan proves just as useful during the preseason, Meachem's job could be in jeopardy.

6. Joe Morgan. Morgan, meanwhile, probably needs to beat out Meachem to make the team since they play similar roles. The addition of Cooks might have hurt Morgan more than anybody, since Morgan's best asset is his deep speed (he averaged a whopping 37.9 yards per catch on 10 catches in 2012!). Morgan is now on a one-year, veteran minimum deal after missing all of last season with a torn ACL.

Morgan still has great potential (at this time last year, he looked like a lock to win the Saints' No. 3 receiver job). He's just facing much stiffer competition now.

7. Brandon Coleman. Among the youngsters, I think Coleman has the best chance of sneaking onto the 53-man roster -- or definitely landing on the practice squad -- because of his unique size and high upside. He'll have to prove he's worth the investment it in camp, though.

8. Andy Tanner. Tanner was also hurt by the arrival of Cooks. A reliable possession receiver with deceptive speed, Tanner actually cracked the active roster in Week 1 last year before he was quickly demoted back to the practice squad. When the Saints released Moore, it looked like Tanner might have an opportunity. But now it might require an injury to create an opening.

And unfortunately, Tanner, who is extremely popular among teammates and coaches, is no longer eligible for the practice squad.

9-11. Chris Givens, Charles Hawkins, Seantavius Jones. All three will likely be competing for practice squad jobs. But you never know. The Saints have given plenty of opportunities to relative unknown receivers and running backs in the past.
Thanks for all of your New Orleans Saints questions on Twitter this week. Send ‘em my way anytime @MikeTriplett:

A position-by-position look at where the New Orleans Saints stand heading into the 2014 offseason -- ranked from 1-12 in order of the team’s need for upgrades or replacements.

Current depth chart:

Marques Colston. Age 30, signed through 2016. 2014 salary and bonuses: $5.6 million. 2014 salary-cap number: $8.3 million.

Kenny Stills. Age 21, signed through 2016. 2014 salary and bonuses: $495,000. 2014 salary-cap number: $543,613.

Lance Moore. Age 30, signed through 2015. 2014 salary and bonuses: $3.8 million. 2014 salary-cap number: $5.07 million.

Robert Meachem. Age 29, unrestricted free agent.

Nick Toon. Age 25, signed through 2015. 2014 salary and bonuses: $570,000. 2014 salary-cap number: $671,903.

Joe Morgan. Age 25, restricted free agent.


As I wrote in my latest mailbag, I don’t think the Saints need to upgrade with a new “No. 1 receiver.” But they certainly need to start re-stocking the shelves with their longtime veterans getting older. And they could use a dynamic downfield threat somewhere in the mix.

Colston and Stills will be back as the Saints’ starters, which is a solid 1-2 punch. Although Colston had more quiet stretches than usual last year, I think he’s still playing at a high level. I never agreed with the notion that he was “slowing down” significantly last year. Speed and separation have never been the keys to his game -- he’s more about catching contested throws with his physicality, range and great hands. He finished with 75 catches for 943 yards and five touchdowns, and I think he can continue that production level for another couple years.

Stills, meanwhile, should only grow after his impressive rookie debut (32 catches for 641 yards and five touchdowns). The Saints used him often as a deep threat since he drew single coverage. But he’s a big target who can do a little of everything, which is why he became a primary starter this past year.

Beyond those two, however, this position is filled with uncertainty, starting with Moore. Although Moore has been a huge part of the Saints’ offense since the beginning of the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era, he has become a part-time player, and he’s due to make a lot of money in 2014. I was surprised by the way the Saints used Moore this past season as a No. 3 receiver behind Stills. He did, however, finish the season strong. So it’s possible they may discuss a pay cut that could keep him in New Orleans.

Meachem’s future is also uncertain since he’s an unrestricted free agent. He didn’t play a huge role in the offense last year (16 catches for 324 yards and two touchdowns). But he did still average 20.3 yards per catch, and he’s an asset as a blocker (he’s the receiver in their heavy run formations). So it’s possible he could come back and play a similar role in 2014.

Morgan appeared to have a lock on that deep threat/blocking role last summer before he suffered a season-ending torn ACL. Assuming the Saints re-sign him as a restricted free agent, he’ll have a chance to earn that same role again this summer. But he has now missed two seasons with major injuries, so he needs to prove he can shake off the rust. That’s a lot of “ifs” for a guy who might cost around $1.5 million or more, depending on the RFA tender.

I think Toon will get another chance to crack the Saints’ rotation this year. Although he struggled during his big audition against the New York Jets last year with two dropped passes, the Saints are still high on his future. He was inactive for most of the season because he was the No. 5 receiver, and the Saints typically only keep four active. … However, the physical Toon will have to impress this summer to beat out Meachem or Morgan or any potential newcomers.
MOBILE, Ala. -- Ever since Sean Payton, Drew Brees, Reggie Bush, Jahri Evans and Marques Colston arrived together in 2006, it's seemed like the New Orleans Saints have had their offensive core in place, and they've needed to build a complementary defense.

[+] EnlargeNew Orleans' Nick Toon
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsReceiver Nick Toon will see more opportunities moving forward, Saints GM Mickey Loomis said.
For example, their top pick in each of the past six drafts has been a defensive player. And most of the Saints' significant free-agent acquisitions have been defensive players during that span, as well.

But suddenly, the Saints' defense seems loaded with young building blocks after breakout performances in 2013 by guys such as ends Cameron Jordan, Junior Galette and Akiem Hicks and defensive backs Keenan Lewis and Kenny Vaccaro.

And by comparison, the offense has started to look like the unit that needs more young developmental talent for the future -- especially at the offensive line and receiver positions. The immediate future of veterans such as right tackle Zach Strief, center Brian de la Puente and receivers Lance Moore and Robert Meachem is in some doubt for various reasons (free agency, the cap, diminishing roles). And someday Brees, Evans and Colston will need to be replaced, too -- though the Saints are hoping they've all got several good years left in them.

"It's a good question," Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said when I asked if the team's focus needs to shift this offseason toward stocking that next generation of offensive talent. "The last few years the focus has been more on defense in the offseason and with the draft. I think it's going to be more balanced this year."

Loomis was quick to point out, however, that the Saints do like the potential of several young offensive players who contributed in 2013 -- even though they weren't big draft or free-agent investments.

"We've got some good young players," Loomis said while visiting with the media during a Senior Bowl practice Tuesday. "[Rookie left tackle] Terron Armstead, I thought, was really good in those last four games. Obviously, he had a few struggles early, but he responded, so I think we're excited about the prospects for him.

"We like this [guard/center] Tim Lelito, he's an undrafted free agent who we're excited about. [Receiver] Kenny Stills was productive as a rookie, fifth-round pick. And we like [second-year receiver] Nick Toon. Nick has been held back by the number of opportunities we can give him. Josh Hill, a [undrafted rookie] tight end. So we've got some good young players on offense. I know it might seem like we don't, but we do."

Toon is one of the most curious names on that list since he was inactive for the second half of the season after struggling when he got his most prominent opportunity of the year against the New York Jets. But when asked if Toon was in the "doghouse," Loomis explained what I always figured to be the case -- that Toon was simply stuck in the back of a crowded position group.

Maybe if Toon had performed better in New York, he would have forced the Saints to keep him in the lineup. But for the most part, he was active for a handful of games when the Saints had injury issues -- then he went back to being the inactive fifth receiver when everyone else was healthy.

"The only thing holding Nick back is the number of opportunities," Loomis said. "He'll get those going forward."

Loomis later spoke about undrafted rookie running back Khiry Robinson, third-year running back Mark Ingram and second-year offensive tackle Bryce Harris, among others whose roles could expand going forward.

It's too early to predict what the Saints' most glaring needs will be in free agency and the draft. They have five starters scheduled to be unrestricted free agents (tight end Jimmy Graham, Strief, de la Puente, safety Malcolm Jenkins and outside linebacker Parys Haralson). They might also opt to part ways with one or more current starters to shed salary-cap space.

But in general, the Saints don't appear to have many positions that "must" be filled in the first round of the draft -- to use a term that the Saints often use when categorizing their offseason needs.

"Always our goal is to fill as many of those holes prior to the draft -- those ‘musts' -- so we can take whatever may fall to us," Loomis said. "Obviously, we're not relying on it, but we'll see what we can do there. It's more of a challenge when you have salary cap issues, obviously. ...

"That best available player [concept in the draft] is always our goal. And that's what we like to talk about. Yet, you always have to have an eye on what you need for our team."

I also jokingly asked Loomis if the Saints have already identified this year's undrafted running back from some Division II school that will come out of nowhere to be a breakout player -- like undrafted standouts Robinson, Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas, among others in the Saints' recent past.

"We're going to," Loomis said with a laugh. "We will have one, I guarantee you that."

Film study: Reviewing Saints offense

November, 5, 2013
Some observations on the New Orleans Saints' offense after reviewing the tape of the team's 26-20 loss to the New York Jets in Week 9:

Dropping the ball: Without question, this was the No. 1 issue that plagued the Saints' offense. By my count, the Saints dropped at least six catchable balls -- many of which were huge momentum-changers.

When I reviewed the tape, I was actually surprised by how good the Saints' offense looked for the first 40 minutes or so. The pass protection wasn't a problem until late in the third quarter. Quarterback Drew Brees had time to throw, and receivers were getting open down the field. It was understandable why coach Sean Payton elected to keep throwing the ball so often.

But dropped passes repeatedly derailed drives.

Late in the first quarter, a Saints drive stalled near midfield when receivers Lance Moore and Nick Toon each dropped passes. Toon's came on a deep ball that could have resulted in a touchdown.

[+] EnlargeNew Orleans' Nick Toon
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsNick Toon could not hold onto this pass against the Jets.
Even more costly was a ball that bounced off Toon's hands in the second quarter and wound up getting intercepted by Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie. The ball snuck up on Toon too quickly on a timing route as he turned to make the catch.

In the fourth quarter, fullback Jed Collins dropped a pass on third-and-1 that would have easily resulted in a first down.

Then on the next drive, tight end Jimmy Graham and receiver Robert Meachem both dropped passes that weren't perfectly on target but did hit them in the hands. Meachem's came on third-and-7 and forced the Saints to settle for a field goal.

Tip drill: One more pass that derailed the Saints early in the game was Brees' first interception in the first quarter. He threw the ball too far behind tight end Benjamin Watson on a crossing route. The ball got batted up by safety Dawan Landry, then linebacker DeMario Davis made a great effort to dive and catch it.

Successful throws: Despite those two batted interceptions and all those drops, Brees still threw for 230 yards in the first half -- including a 60-yard bomb to Meachem, a 51-yard touchdown to Graham, a 10-yard touchdown to Graham and a 25-yard strike to Moore.

The Jets stole a page from the New England Patriots' playbook a few times, matching cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Dee Milliner up with Graham, but it wasn't nearly as effective. Graham torched single coverage on both of his touchdowns. First, he used a double move to beat safety Jaiquawn Jarrett on the deep ball (and dragged Jarrett the last eight yards into the end zone). Then he used his size mismatch to box out Cromartie for the 10-yarder.

Protection breakdown: The Saints' offensive line definitely deserves its share of the blame for this performance. They started to take a beating over the final 20 minutes. Late in the third quarter, Jets end Muhammad Wilkerson beat guard Ben Grubbs with a swim move and ran between Grubbs and left tackle Charles Brown to sack Brees. And Grubbs, guard Jahri Evans and center Brian de la Puente all got flagged for holding or illegal use of hands when they lost one-on-one battles up front.

But like I said above, the Saints' line wasn't being harassed all day long. Brees was hit or hurried a few times in the first 40 minutes -- but it was often because blitz pressure forced a quick throw or because he held the ball too long searching for an open receiver.

That was the case when Brees took his two hardest shots of the day in the second half. On one of those plays, the Jets blitzed, and linebacker Quinton Coples eventually found a free path to Brees after twisting into the middle of the line. On another, Brees got nailed by safety Josh Bush when Graham let Bush loose to run out for a late pass route.

Brees' other sack also appeared to be a blown assignment by Graham (or maybe tight end Benjamin Watson). They were both lined up on the right side of the Saints' line, but neither one of them attempted to block outside linebacker Calvin Pace, who ran free at Brees.

Fourth-and-1 fail: The Saints' failed trick play on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter looked like a massive failure when tight end Josh Hill was stopped by Coples for an 8-yard loss on an end-around run. However, you could tell by watching the tape how it was supposed to work. Everyone else besides Coples either bit on the play-action fake to running back Pierre Thomas or got blocked out of the way. If Coples hadn't stayed home, the play might have resulted in a big gain. ... But Coples never budged. He kept his eyes on Brees and Hill the whole time and made an easy tackle.

Solid runs: Payton was right. The Saints didn't run the ball often, but their run plays were pretty effective when they did. Evans, Grubbs and Collins each had at least one standout block on some of the Saints' longer gains.

Sproles imitation: Runner/receiver Darren Sproles left the game with a concussion early in the first quarter, and he was certainly missed. But Thomas did a great job filling in for Sproles on at least one play -- making a diving catch for a first down on fourth-and-2 in the fourth quarter.

Thomas was also effective as usual on screen passes, catching a total of seven passes for 66 yards.

Saints’ Week 9 snap counts

November, 4, 2013
The most noteworthy tweak in the New Orleans Saints' Week 9 participation report was how much time they spent in seven-man fronts -- using more linebackers and fewer defensive backs. They used those sets to try to combat the New York Jets' heavy-run sets. Obviously the approach didn't work well enough, since running back Chris Ivory burned them for runs of 52, 30 and 27 yards in a 26-20 Jets victory. However, as I wrote in my Upon Further Review column, the Saints weren’t exactly being grounded and pounded all day. Ivory gained only 30 yards on his other 15 carries.

Here's a look at all of the Saints’ snap counts from Sunday:

OFFENSE (74 snaps)

Quarterback: Drew Brees 74
Tight end: Jimmy Graham 56, Benjamin Watson 42, Josh Hill 29
Receiver: Nick Toon 51, Kenny Stills 40, Lance Moore 31, Robert Meachem 30
Running back: Pierre Thomas 55, Mark Ingram 15, Travaris Cadet 3, Darren Sproles 2
Fullback: Jed Collins 16
Offensive tackle: Charles Brown 74, Zach Strief 74
Guard: Jahri Evans 74, Ben Grubbs 74
Center: Brian de la Puente 74

Thoughts: So much for Graham being limited by his foot injury. He went from 18 snaps in Week 8 to 56 in Week 9. His workload was increased by the fact that the Saints went so pass-heavy in the second half while trying to play catch-up. … I’m surprised to see Toon with so many snaps among the receivers, especially after he struggled with two costly dropped passes in the first half. The Saints must have wanted his physical presence on the field with veteran Marques Colston out of the lineup. Not sure why Moore didn’t play more snaps. He appeared to be healthy throughout the game, but it’s possible they’re still easing him back from the hand injury that kept him out for several weeks.

DEFENSE (61 snaps)

Defensive end: Cameron Jordan 58, Akiem Hicks 52, Tom Johnson 11, Glenn Foster 9, Keyunta Dawson 2
Nose tackle: Brodrick Bunkley 35, John Jenkins 23
Outside linebacker: Junior Galette 59, Parys Haralson 32
Inside linebacker: David Hawthorne 61, Curtis Lofton 59, Jonathan Vilma 12, Ramon Humber 1
Safety: Kenny Vaccaro 57, Rafael Bush 47, Isa Abdul-Quddus 8
Cornerback: Jabari Greer 61, Keenan Lewis 55, Corey White 29

Thoughts: Vilma played 12 snaps in his return from a knee injury -- not a big surprise. … With safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper out with injuries, the Saints went with backup cornerback White as their primary nickelback instead of using their usual package of three safeties.

Rapid Reaction: New Orleans Saints

November, 3, 2013

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' 26-20 loss to the New York Jets, which moved them to 6-2 on the season.

What it means: This was a frustrating loss for the Saints because they shot themselves in the foot so often on offense, defense and special teams. After preaching last week that their 35-17 victory against the Buffalo Bills was too sloppy, the Saints committed many of the same mistakes this week. Way too many big gains allowed by their run defense against New York’s Chris Ivory; penalties, dropped passes and interceptions on offense; a missed field goal and big kick return allowed on special teams.

In the grand scheme of things, the Saints can afford one loss -- especially to an AFC team. But they need to prove this was just an “off day” in chilly, windy weather, rather than the continuation of an ugly trend.

Ryan still winless: No one could have been more disappointed than Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who is now 0-5 in NFL matchups against his brother Rex, the Jets’ head coach. Rob knew this was his best chance yet to beat his brother -- especially with Jets quarterback Geno Smith so inconsistent this season. But the Saints’ defense couldn’t stop the run consistently enough to put Smith in uncomfortable situations.

Stock watch: The Saints’ run defense, which had been up and down all season, definitely did not rise to the challenge against a physical, run-first team. New Orleans allowed a total of 198 yards on 36 carries -- 139 of them by Ivory, the power runner who was traded from the Saints to the Jets this offseason. The Saints left way too many gaping holes and missed too many tackles. Ivory had gains of 52, 30 and 27 yards.

Stock watch II: Saints second-year receiver Nick Toon struggled on a day when he had a chance to play a key role with veteran Marques Colston out with a knee injury. Toon dropped two passes -- one of which was tipped up and intercepted. The other could have been a big gain down the left sideline.

Up next: The Saints will be back in their element next week -- a Sunday night home game against the Dallas Cowboys. The Saints have been dominant in prime-time home games, winning 11 straight and 14 of their past 15, dating back to 2008.

Halftime report: Jets 20, Saints 14

November, 3, 2013
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New Orleans Saints are trailing the New York Jets 20-14 at halftime after a sloppy first half on both sides of the ball. Here are a few thoughts on the action so far:

Ivory’s revenge: Former Saints tailback Chris Ivory is making the Saints pay for trading him to the Jets this offseason. He has 10 carries for 93 yards, including a 52-yarder, a 27-yarder and a 3-yard touchdown. It’s not really a “revenge” game for Ivory, since the Saints did him a favor by trading him to New York’s less-crowded backfield. But he’s showing them what they missed out on, regardless.

Two picks for Brees: Saints quarterback Drew Brees has thrown two interceptions in this game after throwing just five in the first seven games. Both of them were tipped balls -- the first when he threw too far behind tight end Benjamin Watson, the second when receiver Nick Toon bobbled a pass. Toon is having a rough day, wasting his chance to step up in Marques Colston’s absence. He also dropped a deep ball down the left sideline earlier in the game.

The Saints are losing the turnover battle 2-0, flipping the script from the rest of the season. Heading into the game, the Saints had a turnover ratio of plus-8 and the Jets minus-12.

Sproles out: The Saints lost one of their top playmakers, running back Darren Sproles, to a concussion on the first series. He’ll be missed today since the Saints are relying heavily on their passing game. The Jets have the NFL’s No. 1-ranked run defense, and they’ve held New Orleans to 16 yards on five carries today.

Graham, Meachem thriving: Two weapons have been thriving for the Saints today. Tight end Jimmy Graham has four catches for 72 yards and two touchdowns. Receiver Robert Meachem has three catches for 88 yards, including a 60-yarder. Expect Brees to lean heavily on Graham in the second half.

Hartley misses again: Saints kicker Garrett Hartley missed another 43-yard field goal, wide left, on the opening drive. He’s now missed three in a row. He can’t afford another miss in a tight game like this.