NFC South: pierre warren

CHICAGO -- Technically, Kenny Vaccaro did wind up getting demoted. But it was both a motivational and tactical move by New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton. He returned Vaccaro to the role where he thrived last season, covering the slot in nickel packages.

Vaccaro still played 70 percent of New Orleans' defensive snaps in Monday night's 31-15 victory over the Chicago Bears. And he even played on all four special teams for the first time in his career -- helping to stuff a fake-punt attempt while in a role that he said was just assigned to him during pregame.

[+] EnlargeKenny Vaccaro
Nam Y. Huh/AP PhotoKenny Vaccaro pressures Bears QB Jay Cutler in the second half of Monday night's game in Chicago.
"A lot of people are gonna go in the tank, get mad. I wasn't mad," said Vaccaro, who described a meeting with Payton earlier in the week as both being "put on red alert" and career-changing. "I'm a team player, whatever my coach wants me to do, that's what I'm gonna do."

It didn't hurt that Vaccaro's "punishment" was also sort of a reward. He said it was easy for him to slide back into the role he played both last season and throughout his college career.

"My favorite thing to do is, 'You guard him, lock him down.' Or, 'You shoot that gap,'" Vaccaro said. "That's what I'm really good at. You tell me to lock somebody down, they ain't catching the ball. ...

"It was easy for me to plug back in, but that comes with repetition. And it'll be same way with safety ... when it all clicks. This is a year I grew a lot, this'll probably be the best year of my career as far as growing mentally-wise."

Vaccaro was admittedly making too many assignment errors in his first season as a true strong safety -- including two very costly ones in last week's 41-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers. He said he was reacting before thinking and needs to learn patience.

Payton ultimately decided Vaccaro was hurting the team too much in that role. But he still believed Vaccaro could be an asset if he played him to his strengths.

"His preparation was outstanding," Payton said. "He played about three different spots tonight (temporarily going back to his old spot when replacement Jamarca Sanford was injured). He was outstanding."

Vaccaro wasn't the only one who bounced back in impressive fashion as the Saints shuffled up their embattled secondary. Sanford and cornerback Terrence Frederick made their starting debuts, while cornerback Patrick Robinson moved to dime packages and Corey White was inactive.

The Saints' top cornerback Keenan Lewis was stingy as usual, coming up with some big-time pass break-ups against dangerous receiver Alshon Jeffery.

And the Saints picked off a season-high three passes against an extremely off-target Bears quarterback Jay Cutler -- one by Robinson on a tipped ball during the opening series and two by rookie safety Pierre Warren.

Warren, an undrafted rookie who re-signed with the Saints last month off the Minnesota Vikings practice squad, practically feels like a veteran already after filling the free safety spot that was vacated by season-ending injuries to Jairus Byrd and Rafael Bush.

"It feels good because they brought me in to make turnovers, so doing that, doing my job, I just gotta keep going," said Warren, who explained that his first pick came in prevent mode in the final seconds of the first half and his second came from a tip by Lewis.

"No. 28, 'Westbank,'" Warren said, using Lewis' nickname, "he had helped me out on that one. He had figured something out, so he told me to get over the top of him, and I was in the right place."

Rapid Reaction: New Orleans Saints

December, 15, 2014
12/15/14
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CHICAGO -- A few thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' 31-15 victory over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field:

What it means: The good Saints showed up again and vaulted into sole possession of first place in the NFC South at 6-8. Of course, this performance comes with a huge disclaimer: They did it against a Bears team (5-9) that has clearly thrown in the towel and repeatedly self-destructed in this game.

Now the Saints will have to prove they can string two good games together, with a critical divisional showdown at home against the Atlanta Falcons (5-9) in six days. This was certainly a great start, with Drew Brees and the defense both giving outstanding bounce-back performances.

Stock watch: Everyone's stock went way down last week, and everyone's went way up Monday night. Welcome to the Saints' 2014 roller-coaster ride.

The most remarkable resurgence was on defense, after that unit hit rock-bottom in the previous Sunday's 41-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers. The Saints made a handful of lineup changes in their secondary, with cornerback Terrence Frederick and safety Jamarca Sanford starting, while Kenny Vaccaro moved back into a nickel role. But it was rookie safety Pierre Warren who came up biggest with two interceptions.

Cornerback Patrick Robinson also had an interception, and New Orleans sacked Jay Cutler a whopping seven times -- three by David Hawthorne and two by Junior Galette.

Sloppy start, tense finish: The Saints were far from perfect. Their first quarter was way too sloppy, with fumbles and penalties (including a lost fumble by receiver Nick Toon at the Bears' 4-yard line on the second offensive play). They once again failed to show that killer instinct after jumping to a 21-0 lead. They had three punts and a field goal over four drives before finally finishing the job.

Game ball: Warren tried to rip it away from Brees with his two picks. But you can't ignore a performance such as this: 29-of-36 passing, 375 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions.

Brees was 18-of-20 in the first half -- one completion shy of the best start in his career, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He also tied Peyton Manning for the most 300-yard, three-TD games in NFL history with the 46th of his career.

Up next: It doesn't get any bigger than this for two teams with losing records in Week 16. The winner of the Saints-Falcons game will control its own destiny in the NFC South. In fact, the Saints could even clinch if Carolina also loses.

But the Saints will have to prove they can win at home again after losing their past four games in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
METAIRIE, La. -- Veteran Jamarca Sanford would seem to be the most likely candidate to replace Rafael Bush as the New Orleans Saints’ starting free safety.

Sanford
Sanford, 29, is listed as Bush’s backup on the Saints’ unofficial depth chart. And the 5-foot-10, 200-pounder spent the past three years as a starter for the Minnesota Vikings, where he reportedly performed well in pass coverage.

The only real knock on Sanford is that he showed up in New Orleans a week ago -- signed mostly as a special-teamer and emergency backup.

But that’s what the Saints are down to now that Bush has been placed on injured reserve with a broken leg. Bush was the third Saints safety to land on IR, following veteran Jairus Byrd and rookie Vinnie Sunseri.

Sanford, a seventh-round draft pick out of Ole Miss in 2009, spent three games with the Washington Redskins earlier this season after being released by Minnesota. He has 269 career tackles, with two interceptions, eight forced fumbles and one sack.

The Saints have other candidates, but they all come with question marks, too:
  • First-year safety Marcus Ball has been with the team all year, but coach Sean Payton described him as more of a strong safety and special-teamer this week -- and Ball has struggled at times when he has played as a third safety on defense.
  • The Saints signed undrafted rookie Pierre Warren on Tuesday off the Vikings’ practice squad. Warren spent the summer with the Saints and made a strong impression as a playmaker in training camp. But he was ultimately released (ironically because of too much depth at safety), and he didn’t even stick long on New Orleans’ practice squad. It’s hard to imagine him stepping right into a starting role.
  • Cornerback Corey White is a wild-card possibility who played safety in college and dabbled at the position in nickel and dime packages during training camp. The Saints have more depth at cornerback, with Patrick Robinson, Brian Dixon, Stanley Jean-Baptiste and recently-promoted Terrence Frederick all capable of stepping up a rung on the depth chart. But the Saints already might need some of those guys to step up since starter Keenan Lewis is still battling a knee injury.

Saints announce practice squad

September, 1, 2014
9/01/14
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The New Orleans Saints announced their 10-member practice squad Monday. They signed safety Pierre Warren, cornerbacks Trevin Wade and Terrence Frederick, linebacker Todd Davis, defensive tackle Lawrence Virgil, receivers Brandon Coleman and Seantavius Jones, tight end Nic Jacobs, offensive tackle Tavon Rooks and guard Antoine McClain.

Of that group, McClain is the only one who wasn’t with the Saints in training camp. The 6-foot-5, 336-pounder was released by the Buffalo Bills over the weekend. He also spent time with the Baltimore Ravens and Oakland Raiders after joining the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Clemson in 2012.

The Saints are expected to hold a bonus practice Monday before returning to their usual weekly routine, with players off on Tuesday. Their first media access and injury report will be Wednesday.

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.

Saints Camp Report: Day 17

August, 18, 2014
8/18/14
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METAIRIE, La. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New Orleans Saints training camp:
  • The defense got the better of the offense during a simulated two-minute drill at the end of Monday's practice -- always among the most spirited competitions in camp. Quarterback Drew Brees looked sharp for a while, moving the first-string offense from one 20-yard line to the other. Brees hit tight end Jimmy Graham for four completions, including a perfect pitch-and-catch tucked between a linebacker and safety. And Mark Ingram was an asset as a receiver out of the backfield during the drive. But then the drive stalled as time started to run out, with a spike, an incomplete shot toward Kenny Stills in the end zone, a would-be sack by blitzing safety Kenny Vaccaro (if they were live tackling) and an incomplete fade pass toward Marques Colston in the end zone. Brees loudly grunted his disgust after the missed opportunity. ... Ryan Griffin led the second-string offense, but they weren't able to cross midfield, thanks to a pass break-up by safety Vinnie Sunseri and two would-be sacks on third and fourth down. Griffin's fourth-down pass, which was nullified, was also intercepted by safety Pierre Warren for good measure.
  • I left Warren off my projected 53-man roster this morning. But the undrafted rookie continues to make plays and make an awfully strong case for himself. Warren also had a nice pass break-up earlier in full-team drills. The problem is that I've still got Warren ranked sixth among the safeties on New Orleans' depth chart, with newcomers Sunseri and Marcus Ball also playing so well in recent weeks. Ball also had a would-be sack on a blitz during team drills Monday.
  • Speaking of undrafted rookies on the roster bubble, receiver Brandon Coleman had a great practice, continuing his roller-coaster summer with the Saints. Coleman made several nice catches, even working in with the first string at times. His best effort was when he went up high to snag a pass over cornerback Brian Dixon. I still think Coleman is more likely headed to the practice squad than the roster, but his unique size and skill set make him worth watching. Payton took note of Coleman's performance, saying he made four or five nice catches, which was “encouraging.” Payton also complimented Coleman's blocking performance in Friday's preseason game.
  • Another receiver who looked sharp Monday was Colston. He had at least two nice catches -- including a gorgeous throw from Brees over cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste during team drills. Colston sat out last Friday's preseason game for an undisclosed reason, but his health certainly hasn't looked like an issue over the past two days.
  • The Saints had to head indoors Monday because of rain and lightning -- to the chagrin of the fans, since indoor practices are closed to the public. They'll try again Tuesday, with an outdoor practice scheduled from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., open to the public weather-permitting.
As long as the training camp injuries are minor enough, teams can always find a silver lining to them. They mean more opportunities for the backups to develop and be evaluated.

That’s been the case with the New Orleans Saints this summer at a few positions -- namely quarterback, guard and safety. With Drew Brees missing the past two weeks with a strained oblique, the Saints have been able to see how backups Ryan Griffin and Luke McCown fit in with the first-string offense against the first-string defense.

[+] EnlargeSenio Kelemete and Marcel Jones
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsMarcel Jones, No. 70, and Senio Kelemete have benefited from getting first-team reps in camp.
Likewise, they’ve gotten a long look at backup guards Senio Kelemete and Marcel Jones, who by all accounts have stepped up big-time while starting guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs have been nursing injuries. And young safeties like Vinnie Sunseri, Marcus Ball and Pierre Warren have all taken advantage of increased opportunities while starter Jairus Byrd is recovering from back surgery.

“That can only help us,” Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief said, specifically referring to the situation at guard. “Look, Jahri’s gonna need some reps to get ready and play, and we’ve got time to get him healthy. [In the meantime], I still can’t say ‘Cel or Marcel.’ I’m still calling him Jah. Me and Jah kind of have our own language that we speak, and it’s not in our playbook. And yet it’s hard for me not to speak that language. So I think the cohesiveness between us will be there, and the same on the other side.

“But to get these guys in, give them a chance, you talk about guys that have grown in this camp, Marcel Jones, Senio Kelemete, really tons of growth. I mean, they really have played well and have gotten a lot of good reps against good players.”

Saints coach Sean Payton pointed out that the same thing happened at the receiver position last year when Kenny Stills and Nick Toon got a ton of experience with the first-string offense because of injuries -- something that obviously gave Stills a huge boost in his rookie season.

“You don’t know what position group it is going to be, but it’s somewhat typical of training camp,” Payton said. “And it’s important for the next guy up to know what to do and take advantage of the opportunity.”

The starting units should play a little more in Friday’s second preseason game against the Tennessee Titans -- possibly into the second quarter, or longer at thinner positions. Here’s a look at how the snap counts were divided in the Saints’ preseason opener last week at the St. Louis Rams:

OFFENSE (67 Snaps)
Quarterback – Ryan Griffin 38, Luke McCown 17, Logan Kilgore 12
Receiver – Brandin Cooks 37, Joe Morgan 36, Nick Toon 23, Robert Meachem 18, Marques Colston 14, Seantavius Jones 13, Brandon Coleman 12, Charles Hawkins 4
Tight end – Josh Hill 32, Nic Jacobs 21, Jimmy Graham 17, Benjamin Watson 12
Running back – Travaris Cadet 25, Mark Ingram 15, Khiry Robinson 14, Derrick Strozier 10, Timothy Flanders 4
Fullback – Austin Johnson 28
Center – Tim Lelito 39, Jonathan Goodwin 16, Matt Armstrong 12
Tackle – Bryce Harris 44, Thomas Welch 44, Zach Strief 17, Terron Armstead 17, Tavon Rooks 12
Guard – Jason Weaver 50, Senio Kelemete 40, Marcel Jones 32, Manase Foketi 12

DEFENSE (75 snaps)
Safety – Marcus Ball 43, Vinnie Sunseri 35, Pierre Warren 35, Ty Zimmerman 27, Rafael Bush 13, Kenny Vaccaro 13
Cornerback – Corey White 40, Stanley Jean-Baptiste 35, Trevin Wade 35, Brian Dixon 27, Derrius Brooks 20, Patrick Robinson 13, Keenan Lewis 13, Rod Sweeting 10
Outside linebacker – Keyunta Dawson 27, Khairi Fortt 26, Kasim Edebali 25, Ronald Powell 21, Junior Galette 13, Chidera Uzo-Diribe 10, Parys Haralson 6
Inside linebacker – Kevin Reddick 39, Todd Davis 27, Ramon Humber 23, Kyle Knox 21, David Hawthorne 13, Curtis Lofton 13
Defensive end – Glenn Foster 35, Tyrunn Walker 32, Rufus Jonson 24, George Uko 21, Akiem Hicks 13, Cameron Jordan 13
Defensive tackle – Lawrence Virgil 27, Brandon Deaderick 26, Brodrick Bunkley 11

SPECIAL TEAMS (31 snaps)
Ball 14, Sunseri 14, Dawson 13, Reddick 13, Edebali 12, Fortt 12, Jean-Baptiste 12, Knox 12, Powell 12, Davis 11, Hill 11, Zimmerman 11, R.Johnson 10, Wade 10, Justin Drescher 9, S.Jones 9, Cadet 8, Bush 7, Derek Dimke 7, Dixon 7, Humber 7, Thomas Morstead 7, Uzo-Diribe 7, Coleman 6, Harris 6, Jacobs 6, Sweeting 6, White 5, Cooks 4, Shayne Graham 4, Hawthorne 4, Warren 4, Armstead 3, Bunkley 3, Goodwin 3, Hicks 3, Jordan 3, Kelemete 3, Lelito 3, K.Robinson 3, P.Robinson 3, Strief 3, Vaccaro 3, Virgil 3, Watson 3, Welch 3, Armstrong 2, Brooks 2, Foketi 2, Griffin 2, M.Jones 2, Robert Quinn 2, Rooks 2, Weaver 2, Flanders 1, Lofton 1, Strozier 1
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- It’s an uphill battle for undrafted rookies to crack a NFL roster. But New Orleans Saints safety Pierre Warren seems to have a good grasp on his main objectives.

[+] EnlargePierre Warren
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsPierre Warren, who has impressed coach Sean Payton, will need to maintain focus on special teams in order to make the Saints' roster.
Within a span of two or three minutes Friday, Warren mentioned three of the talking points that coaches probably love to hear: He knows special teams are his top priority. He knows he needs to keep studying the playbook. And he knows he needs to come out and prove himself every day, despite the fact he’s been making a ton of big plays early in training camp.

“Every day my back’s against the wall. I gotta make a play. I feel like I’ve got to do something to stand out from everybody else,” said the former Jacksonville State standout, who has certainly been accomplishing that goal so far.

The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder has consistently turned heads, with a diving interception the other day, a forced fumble last week and a series of impressive pass break-ups -- the latest in the end zone on Friday.

“He has pretty good football instincts,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “For a lot of these guys, for their ability to pick things up and then take it to the field, especially with where we are at now in our first week of camp, it really helps them. The guys that struggle sometimes are the guys that aren’t 100 percent sure of what to do. I think that has helped him.”

But Warren has also obviously been listening to coaches like Payton, who tells young players all the time that special teams is their path to the 53-man roster.

“It’s been good, but I still have to start with special teams first, because we are stacked at safety,” Warren said. “That’s the main goal.”

Warren said he played special teams during his first two seasons at Jacksonville State. And he’s trying to crack all of the special teams units in New Orleans. He’s been working as a wing on punt coverage and a front-line blocker on kickoffs, among other duties.

Warren led the Gamecocks last year with five interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and ranked second on the team with 76 tackles. He then decided to turn pro before his senior season, even though he knew there was a possibility he wouldn’t be drafted.

When asked why, Warren simply said, “I just felt like it was time.”

Warren said he chose the Saints because they were the first team to call after the draft and he knew they liked to suit up a lot of safeties.

“I figured there was a possibility I wouldn’t get drafted because I was coming from a D-1 AA (school) and I left early as well,” Warren said. “But I was just praying for an opportunity, and it happened.”
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Undrafted rookie safety Pierre Warren continued to “flash” on the New Orleans Saints' practice field Monday morning -- this time diving to intercept a pass that was dropped by receiver Brandon Coleman in full-team drills.

Earlier in camp, Warren also forced and recovered a fumble against running back Derrick Strozier. The former Jacksonville State standout has also made a handful of nice pass break-ups over the past few days.

And the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder clearly showed coaches something they liked long before this week -- because he spent all of organized team activities and minicamp working with the second-string defense (taking advantage of starter Jairus Byrd's injury absence).

Obviously it’s way too early to grant Warren a spot on the 53-man roster based on a handful of highlights. He’s probably had his share of low moments, too, that aren’t always visible to the naked eye. (For instance, Warren was involved in a secondary breakdown Sunday that left a receiver wide open, but it was unclear who missed the assignment).

But the Saints do have a history of giving opportunities to undrafted rookies who shine in training camp. And it certainly won’t hurt Warren to keep showing up on the practice field like he has so far.

Warren, who turned pro after his junior year, led the Gamecocks last season with five interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and finished second on the team with 76 tackles.

So far he has been working alongside fifth-round draft pick Vinnie Sunseri with the second string, ahead of Canadian Football League transplant Marcus Ball and fellow undrafted rookie Ty Zimmerman.

Coach Sean Payton said he took note of Warren’s nice play Monday. However, Payton quickly stressed that for all of those roster hopefuls, it is what they do on special teams this summer that will likely make the biggest impact.

“I just finished talking about this with the whole team: when you’re looking at the safety position, linebacker, tight end ... all of these players that are trying to make an impression are having a chance to do that now,” Payton said. “Certainly they’re going to have to do that when we start the preseason games. Every year there are going to be two guys that make it because of the kicking game. Either they cover kicks, they block a kick, they’re smart and know where to be. He’s a player that would fall into that category.

“He has good ball skills and it appears to be good reactions and someone who’s beginning to pick up what we’re doing. We just keep giving him reps, giving all these guys work. He’s one of those players, though, where the kicking game is going to be important.”

At least one young player has certainly received Payton’s message loud and clear.

As I was walking away from Payton at the podium, I came across fifth-round draft pick Ronald Powell in mid-sentence in a separate interview, and he was saying:

“... a lot of things I don’t know. But one thing I do know is that special teams is very important.”

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