NFC South: P.J. Hill

Around the NFC South

February, 11, 2011
2/11/11
11:55
AM ET
Let's take a look at the top headlines around the NFC South.

Carolina coach Ron Rivera said receiver Steve Smith remains part of the plan “right now," but also referred to the situation as a “touchy thing." As we’ve reported several times before, Smith has been told by ownership and the front office to think about his future. He was frustrated at times last year and that has led to speculation that he wants out of Carolina. But, at the moment, there are no indications Smith has told the team he wants to move on. If he does, the Panthers would shop him for trade, but that could be tied up by the lack of a labor agreement.

A grand jury will decide if New Orleans defensive end Will Smith will face charges stemming from a domestic incident in November. It’s possible Smith could face punishment by the league for that incident and the possibility of a four-game suspension for reportedly using a banned substance still lingers over Smith.

Mike Triplett reports the Saints have waived running back P.J. Hill. He was in the mix for a spot in the backfield rotation last preseason before suffering a season-ending injury.

D. Orlando Ledbetter reports the Falcons have signed a pair of players to futures contracts.

Who is Chris Ivory?

September, 2, 2010
9/02/10
3:35
PM ET
For those of you getting ready for your fantasy drafts, you might want to read Doug Farrar’s detailed piece on Chris Ivory.

Farrar gives Ivory’s history and goes into extensive detail about what the young running back has done for New Orleans so far this preseason. I’ve got a hunch you’ll see plenty of Ivory in tonight’s preseason finale because the Saints want to make sure they have Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush fully rested for the start of the regular season.

With Lynell Hamilton and P.J. Hill going down with season-ending injuries, Ivory has made the most of his opportunities. If he continues to do that tonight, I think Ivory has a pretty good shot at taking over the third spot in the running back rotation. That’s the spot that was held by Mike Bell last season.

Bush and Thomas are going to get more carries and yards, but Ivory has a chance to be the goal-line back. That could make him a nice sleeper pick in your fantasy league.

Your thoughts on indispensables

August, 23, 2010
8/23/10
6:24
PM ET
It’s been a very slow news day around the NFC South (unless you care that Raheem Morris has a stomach virus, the Bucs might bring back Jevan Snead or the Saints put P.J. Hill on the injured-reserve list -- and my editors don’t). I’ve been using much of Monday afternoon to work on some season preview stuff that’s due later this week and will be running over the next couple of weeks.

But I just took a look at the mailbag and you guys did a good job filling it up with your opinions on the most indispensable player for each NFC South team. I asked for your thoughts earlier. My list of indispensable players will run Thursday, so I can’t share my thoughts yet.

That’s why I thought it might be a good idea to throw out some of your responses. Again, my official list might be different on some or all of these guys, but there were some very good answers in the mailbag. So here’s a sample of one response per team.

PANTHERS

Keith in Schafter, Calif. writes: Steve Smith by far is the most indispensable player on Carolina's roster. They have absolutely no proven depth behind him and we all learned from the Panther's season last year how easy it is to disrupt their run-first offense when they cannot get him the ball.

SAINTS

Chris in Camanche, Iowa writes: The loss of Jonathan Vilma for any length of time would be a major blow to the defense. He has been the key to the turnaround since he arrived. With the Saints' lack of depth/experience across the linebacker positions, losing Vilma would be the biggest blow to the weakest link.

FALCONS

Akonz in Alabama writes: I'm going to stick with the Falcons, as I know them very well. Indispensable means that they're probably a very good player, and not a quarterback. Top 5 would be Michael Turner, Curtis Lofton, Roddy White, Jonathan Babineaux, and Thomas DeCoud. Without Babs, our line is weak, and our CB's get picked apart. DeCoud is the last line of defense. Roddy is Matt Ryan's greatest option. Lofton is truly a great quarterback of the defense. And Turner is the wall that Matty Ice leans upon. I'm going to go with Lofton.

BUCCANEERS

Todd in Indiana writes: I would have to say the Bucs can least afford to lose Donald Penn. This past game proves that while he didn’t play great (I think he handled it correctly admitting he got beat and vowing to get better)it was very easy to see how important he is. I thought about Barrett Ruud but I think they could recover from his loss (he needs to step up if he wants a fat contract). Without Penn we could truly loose the most important player on the team.
The New Orleans Saints have been very cautious with the health of wide receiver Robert Meachem, who had a little offseason work done to fix ligament damage in his toe. Although Meachem’s been running and catching balls on the side of the field, he still hasn’t practiced since camp opened.

Meachem

Meachem


That’s about to change.

“I think he’s very close,’’ coach Sean Payton said after Sunday morning’s practice. “I’m hoping that it’s sometime in the early part of this week. I think Robert is progressing pretty well on schedule and we can have him hopefully here in the next couple of days.”

In other news, Payton implied that the team isn’t going to just hand the spot Lynell Hamilton was supposed to fill in the backfield rotation to young running backs P.J. Hill and Chris Ivory.

“Right now, to be fair to those two players, they have a lot of work ahead of them,’’ Payton said. “Both of them have shown some real positive signs, which is encouraging. Fortunately, they’re going to have three more games to get a lot of reps and we’ll see how they progress. But I do like what I’m seeing from them. That being said, there’s still a number of things that they’re working on to get fully up to speed.’’

Payton said he anticipates the Saints will sign another running back this week. Hamilton tore up his knee in a scrimmage with the Patriots and the Saints would like a big, power back to team with Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas.

“We’re currently looking,’’ Payton said. "It’s not something that we’ve decided that we’re going to wait on but the question is can we find the right player and do we have to wait if we can’t. We’re looking right now so I wouldn’t say we’re staying pat, we just haven’t signed anyone in the last two days. Hopefully we’re able to get someone in here that we have a high enough grade on.”
We had to skip a few NFC South Friday chats while I was making the rounds through training camps. But we jumped back into our routine this afternoon and it looks like NFC South readers already are in midseason form.

A few highlights:

Mitch in Boston: I saw highlights of last night’s game between the Ravens and the Panthers. Jimmy Clausen looked very good, but Matt Moore did not. Do you think Clausen can win the starting job?

Pat Yasinskas: Not yet. Didn't think Moore was horrible. Clausen did well, but wasn't perfect. Unless Moore is horrible the rest of preseason and Clausen is great, the opening day job is Moore's. That's been their plan all along. Now, if Moore gets into regular season and struggles, then you could see a switch. But it's not even near that point yet.

Colton in Rock Hill, S.C., asks: Will Dwayne Jarrett be able to step-up into the 2nd WR position opposite of Steve Smith, and be a factor other teams pay attention to?

Pat Yasinskas: I still say Brandon LaFell's going to be the No. 2 wide receiver.

Dave in Columbus, Ohio: Two questions concerning Derrick Brooks' legacy. Does he get into the HOF in 2014 and is he added to new Ring Of Honor in 2011?

Pat Yasinskas: He better. On both counts.

Mark in Greensboro N.C..,: I have read and heard a lot of fans calling Armanti Edwards a bust. That's crazy in my opinion. NFL WR is one of the hardest positions for college WR to adjust to....Edwards is moving to WR in the NFL. Steve Smith didn't look like a Pro Bowl receiver in his first preseason game either (not saying AE is going to be the next Smitty).

Pat Yasinskas: A bust??? Who's saying that? Again, it's one preseason game. Panthers have said all along, he's a work in progress and it's going to take some time. He's making a major position move, but he's got all sorts of potential. You want to talk busts? You can use that one on Dexter Jackson. But let's not even go anywhere near there on Edwards at this point.

Will in New Orleans: Have the Saints given any indication as to who will replace Lynell Hamilton yet? Who do you think looked better last night, P.J. Hill or Chris Ivory?

Pat Yasinskas: Think they'll be keeping a close eye on the waiver wire when rosters are cut down. They might be able to find someone decent there.

To see the transcript of the entire NFC South chat, click here.

Where do Saints turn for big RB?

August, 12, 2010
8/12/10
9:20
AM ET
With Lynell Hamilton suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in Wednesday’s workout with the Patriots, the New Orleans Saints are going to have to make some major decisions about their stable of running backs.

Hamilton
They had planned to use Hamilton in the spot in the rotation that Mike Bell held last year. In other words, Hamilton (6-foot and 235 pounds) was going to be the big back or the short-yardage guy. Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush would alternate as the top two running backs with Bush being the speed guy and Thomas the all-around back.

Bush and Thomas remain in place and I doubt the plan for them will change much. But the Saints now need a third man in that rotation and I’m not sure they’ve got the right candidate on their current roster. All indications are they like P.J. Hill and rookie Chris Ivory. But neither is as big as Hamilton. Ivory is a little closer than Hill, but they’re both within a few pounds of 220.

The Saints had veteran Ladell Betts in for a workout last week and he’s slightly heavier than Hill and Ivory. Plus, he’s got experience. I don’t know if the workout erased any concerns about Betts’ health. If it did, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Saints sign him quickly. If it didn’t, I’d look for them to go out and add another running back very soon.

There’s not much out there right now. This might be a situation where the Saints monitor running backs on other teams throughout the preseason and hope they can add a big back that gets released by someone else.
It's been a pretty busy day around the NFC South, so let's take a look across the division.

Mike Triplett writes the Saints will bring in veteran running back Ladell Betts for a workout. Sean Payton said that’s not related to Pierre Thomas’ wrist injury. I think Triplett’s on the mark when he says the Saints are just bringing Betts in to update their scouting report and have a file on him in case there are any emergencies. From everything I saw and heard when I was in New Orleans, the Saints are quite happy with the running back stable of Thomas, Reggie Bush, Lynell Hamilton and P.J. Hill.

The good news for the Saints is X-rays showed no break in Thomas’ wrist. He didn’t practice Wednesday, but Payton said he anticipates Thomas returning within a few days.

I live in Tampa and I think I heard shouts of joy in the streets as I was driving home from the airport a few hours ago. That’s because Raheem Morris said rookie defensive tackle Brian Price "wrecked practice." It’s something for a fan base that hasn’t had much to be excited about recently. But, as Wolf Heard writes, Price and fellow rookie Gerald McCoy are only rookies and some early glimpses don’t mean they’re on their way to Pro Football Hall of Fame. But, hey, it’s a start.

Tampa Bay’s Keydrick Vincent got some work with the first-team offense at left guard. I don’t like to make predictions generally, but I feel strongly about this one, so I’ll make an exception. I think Vincent will be starting ahead of Jeremy Zuttah, who had a rough season last year.

Interesting sight when Tampa Bay worked on its goal-line offense. Defensive tackle Roy Miller got some work at fullback. I like the idea. Starting fullback Earnest Graham is a heck of a player, but he’s a bit undersized. Putting someone like Miller in front of Cadillac Williams in those situations could be a smart move.

Atlanta running back Michael Turner said he’d like to be more of a receiving threat out of the backfield. Well, any improvement there would be significant because Turner has caught only 22 passes in his career. Yeah, we may see Turner get a few more catches. But his job is to run the ball and he’ll be carrying a heavy load. Besides, I’m much rather see Jerious Norwood on the field when the Falcons decide to throw to a running back.

My good friend, Daniel Cox, has a story on how cornerback Dominique Franks, a fifth-round draft choice, is turning heads in Atlanta’s camp.

A bit of concerning news out of Carolina’s camp. Right tackle Jeff Otah, who had been unable to practice since the start of camp, had arthroscopic surgery on his knee Wednesday. The Panthers still are optimistic Otah will be ready for the start of the regular season. When a player who has been recovering from an injury goes back and has a scope, I think it’s safe to call that a setback. Geoff Schwartz has been practicing in Otah’s place and the Panthers think he’s a decent player. But he’s not the massive force that Otah is.

Around the NFC South

May, 4, 2010
5/04/10
6:48
PM ET
It’s been a pretty slow news day around the NFC South, but that can happen this time of year. I’m getting ready to head up to Flowery Branch, Ga. for Atlanta’s minicamp this weekend and we should have plenty going on then.

In the meantime, here are a few minor odds and ends from around the NFC South.

  • The Saints claimed running back P.J. Hill off waivers from the Redskins. This move could end up being a little more significant than it seems. Hill spent part of last season on New Orleans’ practice squad. With Mike Bell gone, he could compete with Lynell Hamilton to be the short-yardage runner.
  • The Bucs announced running back Clifton Smith signed his tender, which is nice, because he didn’t really have much choice as an exclusive-rights free agent.
  • Tampa Bay rookie receiver Mike Williams told WDAE he is not a quitter and went into detail about what happened when he left the Syracuse football team in his final season.
  • D. Orlando Ledbetter reports Atlanta safety William Moore has been cleared for minicamp. Receiver Harry Douglas, cornerback Brian Williams and defensive tackle Peria Jerry still haven’t been cleared to practice.

Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas


The New Orleans Saints began filling out their practice squad Sunday and it includes some familiar names.

Receiver Adrian Arrington and defensive tackle DeMario Pressley, who were released by the Saints on Saturday, highlight a list of seven players who were signed to the practice squad Sunday. Also signed were guard Tim Duckworth, cornerback Danny Gorrer, running back P.J. Hill, tackle Jermey Parnell and receiver Matt Simon.

Saints: Cutdown analysis

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
7:09
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas


Biggest surprise: Lynell Hamilton virtually forced the Saints to keep four running backs. A practice-squad player last year, Hamilton turned in an impressive preseason performance and beat out undrafted rookies P.J. Hill and Herb Donaldson. At 235 pounds, Hamilton could be a short-yardage specialist. He’ll be behind Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell on the depth chart. But Bush and Thomas each have histories of getting banged up so there’s a good chance Hamilton will get some playing time. Hamilton could even get some work at fullback because Heath Evans is the only one on the roster at that position.

No-brainer: A lot of people just assumed Paul Spicer would make the roster because he’s a 10-year veteran and the Saints will be without suspended defensive ends Will Smith and Charles Grant for the start of the season. But I remember watching Spicer in camp and thinking it didn’t look he had much left. Give the Saints credit for facing reality and not just relying on Spicer’s reputation. They might not be done at this position yet because they have only Bobby McCray, Anthony Hargrove and Jeff Charleston behind Smith and Grant.

What’s next: With Pro Bowler Drew Brees and veteran Mark Brunell, the Saints are in fine shape at quarterback. But they still need to do something at this position after releasing Joey Harrington. It might be something as simple as signing a young quarterback to the practice squad. The Saints don’t necessarily need to carry three quarterbacks on the regular season roster. But they need to have one more quarterback in the building to run the scout team and to be ready just in case of disaster.

Saints make roster cuts

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
6:11
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas


The Saints just announced they are down to 53 players. They took several different routes to get there.

Tight end Billy Miller, fullback Olaniyi Sobomehin and safety Chip Vaughn were placed on the injured-reserve list. Receiver Adrian Arrington, guard Nate Bennett, tackle Michael Brown, center Digger Bujnoch, running back Herb Donaldson, guard Tim Duckworth, cornerback Danny Gorrer, receiver Skyler Green, defensive tackle Earl Heyman, running back P.J. Hill, tight end Martrez Milner, tackle Jeremy Parnell, defensive tackle DeMario Pressley, receiver Courtney Roby, receiver Matt Simon and linebacker Anthony Waters.

The following veterans had their contracts terminated: offensive lineman Anthony Davis, quarterback Joey Harrington and defensive end Paul Spicer.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

In his meeting with the media Sunday afternoon, New Orleans coach Sean Payton indicated running back Pierre Thomas, who's been out with a sprained MCL, should be ready for the regular-season opener against Detroit.

 Thomas

"There would be some concern, although I think very little that he wouldn't be ready for Detroit, at least based on the information now," Payton said." The feeling is he'll be ready for that game and would probably be listed as questionable for Thursday night's [preseason] game."

Payton also said the Saints may consider keeping four running backs on their roster. Thomas and Reggie Bush are locks for roster spots, and Mike Bell seems to be the top candidate for the No. 3 spot on the depth chart.

But Lynell Hamilton and undrafted rookies P.J. Hill and Herb Donaldson each have shown some promise.

"It makes it a tough decision and hopefully we can keep working and training these guys and give them more work next week and gather as much information as we can on them," Payton said.

Your observations on the Saints

August, 23, 2009
8/23/09
10:54
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Since I wasn't able to watch the Saints against the Texans, I asked for your help. I asked those of you would could catch the game to send in your observations and you did. There were dozens of scouting reports in my mailbag. We can't run them all, but I picked some that seemed to represent the thoughts of many of you. Thanks to all who helped out.

Paul in Lafayette, La., writes: Observations on Saints-Texans game: You can write Mike Bell's name in permanent ink on the roster. The defense did a good job making adjustments. Both first- and second- team defenses allowed a TD on the first series but no point after that. The Saints have forced three turnovers in each of their two preseason games. That's a big change in New Orleans. Rod Harper is going to make it tough for the coaching staff to decide who becomes the Saints' sixth receiver. The goal line offense needs work. The Saints failed to convert on their first two opportunities from within the 10-yard line. P.J. Hill ended the drought with a two-yard run. Porter and Greer hold Andre Johnson to less than 10 yards per catch. Harrington did a decent job running the two minute offense (45 yards in 1:46 and got a field goal).Buck Ortega might only make this team if the Saints keep four tight ends. He hasn't had the best camp and failed to get out of bounds during the two-minute drill.

Archie in St. Bernard, La., writes: I thought the Saints played well. They struggled with penalties on special teams but they will fix that. I was really impressed with our running game. Mike bell had 100 yards rushing and a TD on only 10 carries, he stood out among all the rest. I felt that our D did good considering that we were in our base package throughout pretty much the entire game. Our dbs and lbs got after the football and created turnovers. We did let a few big plays happen but there offense was ranked 3rd overall last year and we were at their house. Our run defense was solid. We got some pressure on the QB, although I would like to see more sacks. Over all I give the Saints a B-. They could have done better. But it still was a very good performance. There is one problem though, we have to many talented wrs. Colston, Moore, Meachem, Henderson, and Arrington should make the final roster but that still leaves Courtney Roby who has been great in camp and returning kicks, and then there is Rod Harper who came out of nowhere during the offseason and has been very impressive in the preseason games. I know I'm still missing a few names but those 7 can all help out a lot. Is there any way at all that the Saints keep 7 wrs on the final roster? Or am I just kidding myself?

Cory in Baton Rouge, La., writes: About scouting on the saints-texans game:Rod Harper is making a case to the Saints organization. In the first preseason game he was as electric as someone from the af2 can look like in the nfl. And here again in the second preseason game he was a very interesting player to watch, returning a punt for a touchdown. I know this is the preseason and therefore there were limited personnel on the field but with some time and coaching he could be another coslton/moore diamond-in-the-ruff.In other news, Anthony Hargrove continues to make a statement and will, WILL, push Charles Grant eventually for the starting job. While he looked a little rough with the penalties, he is showing his talent and relentlessness. No wonder the coaches are high on him.Finally, we see adrian arrington make some very nice catches in this second game. This receiver group is deep but very talented. It will be interesting to see who is let go, especially considering the depth needed/wanted for the defensive backs and the safeties.

Benjamin in New Orleans writes: I found it incredible how dominate both of our lines were. Save for the first and part of the second drive the run, the offensive line blocked fantastic for the run and the pass.Obviously Mike Bell had a huge game for us, and those weren't just padded stats against a second team Houston defense. Bell ran with authority behind a line that blocked well all night.The turnovers the Saints have managed to produce to is remarkable. The attitude the defense was lacking last season came full force against the Texans.It's preseason and a bit early for jubilation and claiming all our woes bygone, but if the Saints have truly found the answer to their lack of defensive production and a solid run blocking line to give holes to our backs I don't see any team that we don't match-up well with.

Troy in New Orleans writes: Several serious observations: Never get excited about a pre-season game. Saints running game on track. Thomas ran well, Bell 10 carries, 100 yards. Saints against the run also on track: 35 yards rushing at the end of three. Not much more in the fourth. The Gregg Williams effect: three more decisive and timely turnovers. Robert Meachem: Most Improved player in NFL. Adrian Arrington: Watch out for him too .Did you notice: Joey Harrington looked effective with the ones, but when he went out, the threes had an immediate and unmistakable boost with Brunell.

 
  AP Photo/Bill Haber
  Jonathan Vilma is excited about playing for new coordinator Gregg Williams.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

METAIRIE, La. -- By all accounts, Jonathan Vilma resurrected his career with the New Orleans Saints last season. After clashing with coach Eric Mangini with the Jets and enduring an injury, Vilma found a home in the middle of New Orleans' 4-3 defense.

He got back to playing middle linebacker the way he was used to playing it and instantly became the leader of the defense. By Vilma's account, that wasn't nearly good enough.

Personal satisfaction has a way of getting watered down when you're playing on a defense that's not very good. Vilma might have been a bright spot, but the rest of the defense was a dark hole. Nine different times the Saints allowed opponents to score at least 27 points and they lost seven of those games.

Camp Confidential: NFC South
Panthers: Thurs., Aug. 6
Saints: Mon., Aug. 10
Falcons: Sat., Aug. 15
Buccaneers: Tues., Aug. 18
Training camp index

In the process, the defense helped squander a brilliant season by quarterback Drew Brees and the offense. Brees threw for more than 5,000 yards, but it didn't mean much because the defense didn't stop anyone and the Saints finished out of the playoffs for the second straight year.

It's critical the streak doesn't reach three seasons because that would put coach Sean Payton very much on the hot seat. That's why Payton brought in coordinator Gregg Williams to run the defense and encouraged general manager Mickey Loomis to reshuffle the defensive personnel.

Williams' impact has been felt from the first moment he entered the building and it's been obvious out on the practice field.

"The X's and O's are pretty much the same," Vilma said. "But it's a different mindset. It's about letting us play. Coach Williams lets us know it's all right to go out there and make mistakes. It's all right to go out there and be wrong. As long as you're doing it 100 miles per hour, as long as you're hitting somebody, it's all right. We'll go into the meetings and make our corrections there."

Fantasy Football: 32 Questions
ESPN.com fantasy expert Eric Karabell thinks Saints running back Pierre Thomas is "about to become a star." Story
Basically, what the Saints are doing is trading a cautious defensive approach for an aggressive one.

"Everybody's playing with swagger," defensive end Bobby McCray said. "We've got 160-pound cornerbacks looking to knock your head off."

That should be a welcome sight in New Orleans, where there wasn't a lot of hitting last season, and cornerbacks (and safeties) spent most of their time chasing receivers who already had caught the ball. The roles will be different this season.

"It's a lot more man-on-man," said veteran safety Darren Sharper, who was brought in as a free agent to help stabilize the secondary. "You're doing some zone. You're blitzing guys from different directions. That shouldn't be a problem for us. We have no excuses as far as getting to the quarterback. It's a state of mind. You attack the ball. You have 11 guys being aggressive and you make aggressive calls. We're going to be an aggressive, attacking defense."

It's been said that even an average defense might be good enough to get the Saints to the playoffs. But the Saints aren't looking for an average defense. They want more.

"We can be as good as we want to be," Vilma said. "We have the talent. We had the talent last year, but we just didn't make plays. This year, we're focusing on making those plays. The talent is there. It's just a matter of going out and doing it."

Key Questions

Even with all of the defensive changes, isn't the expected loss of starting defensive ends Charles Grant and Will Smith to suspensions for the first four games going to be very difficult to overcome?

 Grant
 Smith

It's never good to be without your starting defensive ends. But the Saints have had the entire offseason to prepare for this situation.

They brought in veterans Paul Spicer and Anthony Hargrove, and they still have McCray, who might have outplayed the underachieving Grant and Smith last season. The Saints would like to use McCray as a pass-rush specialist once Grant and Smith return, but they believe he can fill a starting role in the short term. They're also very fired up about Hargrove, who appears very focused after having some problems that interrupted his career.

There's even hope that Grant and Smith might be better off in the long run because of the suspensions. Both are very talented, but haven't played up to their ability the past couple of years. The Saints are hoping they'll come back from the suspensions with more motivation than ever.

Can the No. 1 offense be as good as last year?

 
  Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
  Quarterback Drew Brees threw for more than 5,000 yards for the Saints last season.

Heck, it could be even better. Brees' season was remarkable under any circumstances. But a lot of people tend to forget he did all of that with the top three offensive weapons banged up for most of the year. Brees threw for more than 5,000 yards, but didn't have a 1,000-yard receiver or any consistency in the running game.

The 1,000-yard receiver shouldn't be an issue this year. Marques Colston is back at full health and looking absolutely spectacular in training camp. He's the kind of big receiver who should be good for somewhere around 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns. Throw in tight end Jeremy Shockey, who never was at full strength last year, but is healthy now.

Shockey and Brees look to be developing a strong chemistry in camp. When healthy, Shockey can be one of the league's best tight ends. He didn't catch a touchdown pass last year. He's painfully aware of that and wants to prove he still can find the end zone.

Then there's Reggie Bush. He was off to a very good start as a multi-purpose running back last year, but he got sidetracked by injuries and missed six games.

Can Bush ever live up to the hype he carried coming out of college?

If he stays healthy, yes. Bush will never be the kind of back who runs between the tackles 25 times a game. But that's not what the Saints are looking for. They'll let Pierre Thomas handle most of the carries between the tackles. Bush is a threat to score any time he touches the ball and the Saints will look to get him the ball in space as a runner, receiver and a return man.

Market watch

The Saints really were hoping that Dan Morgan or Stanley Arnoux could take over as the starter at weakside linebacker. But Morgan retired in June and Arnoux tore his Achilles tendon in offseason workouts and will miss the season. That means the Saints appear destined to stick with veteran Scott Shanle in a linebacking corps with Vilma and Scott Fujita. Shanle's experienced, but he doesn't make any big plays and lacks great speed. The Saints have been very impressed with young linebackers Anthony Waters and Jonathan Casillas so far in camp. They're raw, but Williams wants aggressiveness and he may take a chance on one of these guys.

 Henderson
 Meachem

Receiver Devery Henderson, who struggled with drops through much of his career, suddenly started catching the ball last season. But the drops have resurfaced during camp and that's not a good sign. With Colston healthy and third-year pro Robert Meachem showing some signs he might live up to his status as a first-round pick in 2007, Henderson could end up as the fourth receiver.

Former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Rod Coleman ended a one-year retirement to make a comeback with the Saints. Coleman hasn't stood out in camp so far, but the Saints will use the preseason games to determine if Coleman has anything left. They'd like to use him as a part-time player on passing downs because he used to be one of the league's top interior rushers.

Newcomer to watch

 
  Crystal LoGiudice/US Presswire
  Rookie Malcolm Jenkins has to make up for lost time now that he has agreed to terms on a contract.

Top draft pick Malcolm Jenkins ended his holdout late Sunday night. Jenkins is a unique talent, but the holdout could have cost him a shot at a starting cornerback spot. The Saints paid big money to Jabari Greer in free agency and he's set at one starting spot. Tracy Porter has picked up where he left off when an injury ended a promising rookie season and has the edge for the other starting role. Jenkins isn't even guaranteed to land as the nickelback because veterans Randall Gay and Jason David have been playing well in camp.

Observation deck

There still are a lot of fans calling for the Saints to bring in veteran Edgerrin James to be the short-yardage running back, but that doesn't appear likely. First off, James isn't the prototypical short-yardage runner. Second, the Saints might already have their answer. They've been letting undrafted free agents P.J. Hill and Herb Donaldson compete with Mike Bell for this role. All three are true power backs and all three have looked good at times. ... Defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis showed some promise as a rookie, but injuries kept him from being on the field all the time. Ellis is quietly having a very nice camp and the Saints believe he's ready to really become a force in the middle. ... The Saints used a fifth-round draft pick on punter Thomas Morstead, but there's no guarantee he'll win the job. He's in a battle with Glenn Pakulak and, so far, it's a dead heat. ... Williams' base defense is the 4-3, but he started installing a 3-4 package last week. Don't look for the Saints to use the 3-4 a lot. But you could see a fair amount of it early in the season when Smith and Grant are out and the Saints will deal with a shortage of quality defensive linemen.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

It sounds like the Saints' interest in Edgerrin James may be more wishful thinking by fans than it is reality for the team.

Although Sean Payton admitted the organization has at least discussed the veteran running back, the coach made it sound like the Saints aren't strongly interested in James.

Payton told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that nothing is imminent. At very least, it's likely the Saints will go through this weekend's rookie minicamp and take a look at and undrafted free agents P.J. Hill and Herb Donaldson as potential short-yardage backs before making any dramatic moves. Veteran Mike Bell also could be a possibility for that role.

I'm not sure James in New Orleans is as good a fit as a lot of readers think. James has indicated he wants to go to a team where he can play a big role after having reduced playing time in Arizona. The Saints have Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush and just want someone to help with short-yardage carries. I'm not sure James is ready to be just a situational player.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider

NFC SOUTH SCOREBOARD