NFC South: Luke McCown

TAMPA, Fla. -- You could make an argument that the McCowns are the first family of the NFC South.

Josh McCown plays for Tampa Bay and previously played for Carolina. Brother Luke plays for New Orleans and previously played for Atlanta.

Their current teams will square off Sunday when the Bucs visit the Saints.

McCown
McCown
"We have Charlotte, Atlanta, Tampa and New Orleans covered," Josh said Thursday. "We know where to eat at. We know where all the spots are. It’s just where the journey has taken us, and it’s been fun. All of our stops along the way and the guys we’ve gotten to work with whether it’s myself and Jake Delhomme in Carolina or Matt (Ryan) and Drew (Brees) with Luke, it’s been great."

The McCowns might not play Sunday -- Josh is dealing with a thumb injury and Luke is the backup quarterback to Brees, but the meeting still will be special.

"It will be cool," Josh said. "I’ve said it over and over, it’s a blessing just to be in the NFL for one person. For two people in the same family, those are long odds. It’ll be fun Sunday. It will be special for Luke and I."

Josh still was wearing a brace on his right hand Thursday and he has yet to grip a football, but he said he believes he’s making progress.

"It feels like I’m gaining ground and improving," he said. "But there’s still a healing time that has to occur. We just have to let the process take place."

Josh said surgery remains an option if the injury doesn’t heal with therapy and rest. But that is an option McCown wants to avoid.

"You never say never," McCown said. "You don’t know. But we’re hopeful. We’re very encouraged by where we’re at now. But, again, you can’t take anything off the table."
NEW ORLEANS – Lesson learned this preseason: Write off Luke McCown at your own peril.

It should have been known the veteran New Orleans Saints quarterback wouldn’t be so easy to get rid of. Maybe his 11 years spent bouncing around the NFL with five different teams should have been the first clue. He’s a survivor.

Luke McCown
Rogelio Solis/Associated PressLuke McCown has made his presence felt this preseason for the New Orleans Saints.
And by the way, that runs in the family (see: fellow journeyman Josh McCown, now a starter in Tampa Bay at age 35).

Despite spent most of the summer predicting that second-year pro Ryan Griffin would unseat McCown as the Saints’ backup this year, I’ve changed my mind.

The last clue was McCown’s terrific finish to a solid preseason during Thursday night’s 22-13 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. McCown started and played just one series -- leading the Saints to a touchdown on their opening drive. He was a perfect 4-for-4 for 29 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown strike to running back Travaris Cadet.

Griffin had a nice preseason, too (despite a so-so performance on Thursday). Griffin likely has a roster spot as the Saints’ No. 3 quarterback and a future as their backup.

But McCown kept dropping clues all summer that he wasn’t going to hand over his spot to the young guy. The 33-year-old has never considered himself a placeholder.

“I play to win, I compete to win, to be the starter,” McCown said. “As I said early in camp, I’m not just competing for a spot on this team, I’m not just competing to be the backup. I want to start. And obviously Drew [Brees] has got that pretty well under hand. But that’s the mentality you have to have.”

McCown’s numbers didn’t jump off the page this preseason. He completed 26 of 43 passes (60.5 percent) for 240 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. But he looked particularly good on the opening drives against Tennessee in Week 2 and Baltimore in Week 4. And he said he thinks his third summer with the Saints was probably his best. He said it’s only natural to get more comfortable, to develop a better understanding of the offense.

McCown said he first heard the classic NFL cliché, “You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse” from former coach Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay. And he took it to heart.

After struggling as a rookie starter with the Cleveland Browns in 2004 -- then getting traded to Tampa Bay after the season -- McCown learned quickly.

“Nobody has to announce, ‘Hey, there’s an open competition for this spot or that spot. You should have the understanding as a player that, ‘If I don’t perform today, they might look to replace me,” McCown said. “You never want to plateau or get to a point where you’re complacent or you’re content or you say, ‘Hey, man, I’ve done enough and I’m good now.”

McCown, who did get cut in favor of Chase Daniel during his first summer with the Saints in 2012, didn’t necessarily need any new inspiration to drive him after a decade spent learning that lesson over and over again.

But he said he was obviously inspired by watching his older brother Josh catch lightning in a bottle last year with the Chicago Bears. Josh thrived as an injury replacement for Jay Cutler before signing a lucrative free-agent deal to become the Buccaneers’ starter.

“Absolutely. How can it not (inspire you)?” McCown said. “I mean, the right situations don’t come along for everybody. And for my brother and myself, they’ve not come along very often for either one of us. But that’s not to knock our abilities or our capabilities of being a leader of a team. That’s just the way the cards have fallen for us. That’s been God’s plan for us.

“With that understanding we’re competitors, and we’ve continued to compete and look for that opportunity. And Josh got a great opportunity in a great situation, surrounded by great people last year. And look what it did for him. And it revitalized his career, if you will. But the point is that he was ready for that. Because he never got down, his mentality was right, he continued to work.

“And that’s not a lesson for me, that’s a lesson for anybody that’s gone through the ups and downs of a NFL career.”

NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Saints missed their chance to finish undefeated in the preseason for the first time in franchise history, losing 22-13 to the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday night inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Obviously that doesn’t matter a lick, considering quarterback Drew Brees and about a dozen other starters sat out the final exhibition game.

So what did matter? I can’t say that any jobs were obviously won or lost on Thursday night. But here are the clues that stood out most:
  • I still have no idea who’s going to win the kicking job. Derek Dimke got all of the work Thursday, including kickoffs. However, he missed a 54-yard attempt wide right that might have helped him lock down the job. Fortunately, a roughing penalty was called, giving him a second chance at a 49-yard attempt, which he made. … That’s kind of how it has been for both Dimke and veteran Shayne Graham all summer -- mostly good, some bad, nothing definitive.
  • Luke McCown sure looks like the front-runner for the backup quarterback job. He started again (McCown played ahead of Ryan Griffin in all four exhibition games) and led the Saints to a touchdown on the opening drive, going 4-for-4 for 29 yards, including a 3-yard TD strike to Travaris Cadet. Griffin played the rest of the game after that first drive, but he was pretty ordinary, finishing 11-of-21 for 126 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions.
  • Receiver Joe Morgan has been getting better every week and might have moved ahead of both Nick Toon and Robert Meachem as the fourth receiver. Morgan started and caught four passes for 33 yards (one of them a great catch down the field). I would say Meachem’s job appears to be in jeopardy, as he has fallen behind those other guys in the playing-time pecking order. But sure enough, Meachem made a fantastic 52-yard catch Thursday to help remind the Saints why they’ve always liked him so much.
  • I’m almost positive Jonathan Goodwin has won the starting center job over Tim Lelito, as Goodwin got the night off, along with many other veteran starters.
  • If anyone could have possibly lost a starting job Thursday, it might be cornerback Patrick Robinson. The Ravens picked on him quite a bit, chipping away with several mid-range gains. Baltimore virtually ignored fellow veteran Champ Bailey on the other side of the field. I think that battle will remain fluid, but it’s possible Bailey could inspire more confidence heading into Week 1.
  • Of the undrafted rookies vying for roster spots, outside linebacker Kasim Edebali continued to look the part. He started in place of Junior Galette and was in on at least three of the starting special-teams units. Edebali didn’t have any dramatic highs or lows, but it’s obvious the Saints are giving him a serious look. … Meanwhile, safety Pierre Warren made two great plays with an open-field run stop and a leaping interception on an overthrown deep ball. But he wasn’t as involved on special teams, so he’s a slightly longer shot to crack the roster. … Cornerback Brian Dixon had a nice pass break-up and tight end Nic Jacobs was in with the starters at times. But they’re also long shots.

W2W4: New Orleans Saints

August, 28, 2014
8/28/14
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Two of the NFL’s four undefeated teams in the preseason will square off Thursday when the New Orleans Saints (3-0) host the Baltimore Ravens (3-0) in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. It will be the final exhibition game for both teams.

1. Griffin still in play? Honestly, I'm not sure if the Saints’ backup quarterback job is still up for grabs. For most of the offseason, I predicted they’d go with second-year pro Ryan Griffin as long as he could prove trustworthy in the role. But the Saints have played veteran Luke McCown ahead of Griffin in every preseason game so far. So maybe they’ve already made up their minds to go with the more proven veteran. … Either way, Griffin will get one last chance to sway them against Baltimore. He’s expected to play most of the game, though coach Sean Payton hasn’t announced who will start. Payton also hasn’t announced whether or not starting quarterback Drew Brees will play.

2. Jobs on the line? There are a handful of starting jobs still up for grabs, including at kicker (Shayne Graham vs. Derek Dimke), center (Jonathan Goodwin vs. Tim Lelito), cornerback (Patrick Robinson vs. Champ Bailey vs. Corey White) and fullback (Austin Johnson vs. Greg Jones). Of that group, I’d bet the only one that can truly be influenced by Thursday night's performances is the kicker battle. It’s close enough that a bad night could doom either guy. As for the others, I’m guessing we’ll see Goodwin, Robinson and Johnson starting in Week 1, though any extreme highs or lows tonight will certainly be taken into account.

3. Room for undrafteds? My latest 53-man roster projection didn’t include any undrafted rookies – which would be rare for the Saints, who wound up with a total of seven on their roster last year. But as I wrote Wednesday, I think outside linebacker Kasim Edebali has a chance after the Saints cut some experienced linebackers this week. Others on the bubble include safety Pierre Warren, tight end Nic Jacobs and cornerback Brian Dixon. A big night from any of them – especially on special teams – could earn a roster spot.
Most significant move: Releasing linebacker Victor Butler was a small surprise, but a huge shame. I was one of many analysts who thought the pass-rush specialist could have a huge impact when he joined the New Orleans Saints last year, following defensive coordinator Rob Ryan from Dallas. Unfortunately, Butler missed all of last season with a torn ACL, then he missed three weeks of training camp this year with an ankle injury. In the meantime, the Saints continued to develop two other breakout pass-rushers in Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette. Hopefully Butler can get healthy and get another opportunity somewhere, because he’s an energetic, well-liked guy who showed a ton of promise before the injuries.

One-year wonders: I was equally surprised to see the Saints release second-year linebacker Kevin Reddick, who had been a mainstay on all of their special teams units last season and this preseason. But it goes to show how much depth the Saints have at linebacker. This probably guarantees that guys such as Keyunta Dawson and Kyle Knox will make the team and maybe open up a spot for undrafted rookie Kasim Edebali. ... Cornerback Rod Sweeting also got cut after spending all of last season on the roster as an undrafted rookie. And 2013 sixth-round pick Rufus Johnson Jr. got waived as well -- less surprising after both had fallen behind in the pecking order throughout the summer.

What’s next: Two of the most compelling battles that will be decided by week’s end are at backup quarterback (Luke McCown vs. Ryan Griffin) and kicker (Shayne Graham vs. Derek Dimke). It’s starting to look more and more like McCown will win the backup job. If that happens, the Saints will probably keep three quarterbacks since they like Griffin’s long-term potential. ... I don’t anticipate any more veteran surprises, but you can never rule them out. If I had to make my final roster projection right now, I’d have four guys battling for the last three spots (McCown, Edebali, safety Marcus Ball and defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick).

Saints' cuts: LB Victor Butler, LB Kevin Reddick, DE Rufus Johnson Jr., CB Rod Sweeting, S Ty Zimmerman, DE George Uko, WR Andy Tanner (injured), QB Logan Kilgore, TE Travis Beckum, OT Manase Foketi, OT Ty Nsekhe (injured).

Bring on Week 1.

It only took one quarter for Drew Brees to prove he's ready for the regular season on Saturday night. And the rest of the New Orleans Saints' starting units didn't look too shabby themselves in a 23-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

The Saints weren't perfect -- especially in the penalty department (10 for 84 yards), which has been a maddening problem this preseason. But they did most of the important things right while cruising to an early 20-7 lead.

Here are some other thoughts on the Saints' third preseason game:
  • Apparently Brees didn't have to shake off too much rust after missing the first two exhibition games with a strained oblique. He led the Saints to touchdowns on their opening drive and their third drive, throwing TD passes to fullback Austin Johnson and receiver Marques Colston. Brees finished 9-of-15 for 128 yards and even ran 10 yards for a first down. ... He called it a night before the first quarter was over and probably won't play in the preseason finale on Thursday night. He certainly doesn't need to.
  • The Saints' starting defense looked dominant at times, highlighted by safety Kenny Vaccaro's diving interception in the first quarter and a nearly spectacular interception by cornerback Keenan Lewis, who ran step for step down the field with receiver T.Y. Hilton and tipped away a deep ball. Safety Jairus Byrd, cornerback Patrick Robinson and cornerback Champ Bailey also made healthy returns to the lineup, helping New Orleans hold Luck to a mediocre night (10-of-18 for 103 yards, one touchdown, one interception). Luck's TD came on a blatant breakdown in coverage, when nobody picked up wide-open tight end Coby Fleener on a 21-yard pass. ... Defensive end Cameron Jordan was also outstanding with one sack, one near-sack and one pressure into an incomplete pass during a goal-line stand.
  • Receiver Kenny Stills left the game with trainers during the first half, which was the biggest negative of the night. According to the CBS broadcast, Stills aggravated the quad injury that has plagued him throughout the preseason. It's unclear how long he may be out, but if he's in danger of missing Week 1, the Saints do have plenty of experienced depth at the position.
  • Neither of the Saints' backup quarterbacks did anything to cement their job as Brees' understudy. I found it odd that veteran Luke McCown came in first for the third straight game; I thought it would be more of a 50-50 split during the preseason between he and Ryan Griffin. McCown finished 3-of-10 for 45 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions, though he did lead the Saints on two field goal drives. Griffin, meanwhile, led the Saints to just three points during the entire second half, finishing 8-of-13 for 46 yards with an interception.
  • In other position battle news: Center Jonathan Goodwin started ahead of Tim Lelito and appeared to play well while the offense was rolling. ... Kickers Shayne Graham and Derek Dimke were both perfect (Graham made field goals of 39 and 24 yards; Dimke a 45-yarder. ... The running backs aren't exactly jockeying for roster spots, but they again proved that there should be a three-way timeshare between Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson. Thomas had the best night with four catches for 66 yards and three runs for 13 yards. Ingram had a 17-yard run and finished with eight carries for 46 yards. Robinson had eight carries for 21 yards and one catch for 4 yards.
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
8/13/14
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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
8/11/14
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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. -- 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.”
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
7/27/14
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.
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.
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.”

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