NFC South: Terron Armstead

The Film Don't Lie: Saints

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
11:00
AM ET
A weekly look at what the New Orleans Saints must fix:

No quarterback in the NFL has been worse while under duress this year than Drew Brees, who needs to start making better decisions under pressure when the Saints (2-4) host the Green Bay Packers (5-2) on Sunday night.

Brees now has a league-worst passer rating of 19.4 when he's either under duress or being hit, according to ESPN Stats & Information -- a number that has plummeted with three ugly interceptions over the past two games against the Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Brees has completed 20 of 47 passes for 199 yards while under pressure with zero touchdowns, four interceptions and five sacks.

The good news is Brees has been under pressure on only 20.4 percent of his dropbacks this year -- a rate that ranks sixth best among NFL teams once you throw out the sack against punter Thomas Morstead on a flopped fake punt at the Dallas Cowboys.

And, at times, Brees and the Saints' offensive line have looked outstanding, like they did during the first three-plus quarters at Detroit this past Sunday, when Brees completed 26 of 32 passes for 335 yards and two touchdowns.

But then suddenly, the Saints line couldn't seem to block anyone in the Lions' stifling defensive front as they coughed up a 13-point lead in a stunning 24-23 loss. Brees threw a career-high 10 straight incomplete passes in the fourth quarter -- including a game-changing interception he admitted was too telegraphed.

Left tackle Terron Armstead got beat on that play, and he allowed at least three pressures in the fourth quarter. So did guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs. Right tackle Zach Strief allowed at least two.

Saints coach Sean Payton expressed very little concern over Brees, though, when asked if he thinks he's pressing too much.

"No, I don't," Payton said. "Obviously [you] want to have the one interception back, but I felt like his decision-making and rhythm, I felt like his week of preparation and how he played all during the practice week was outstanding. He's going to be just fine. He's the least of our worries."
METAIRIE, La. -- Every week I choose an opposing player to feature in this space, usually based on a rare talent level or skill set that will cause matchup problems for the New Orleans Saints.

This week, however, I couldn’t settle on just one guy since Saints players and coaches had such glowing things to say about both Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David.

Despite the Buccaneers’ overall struggles, these guys have emerged as two of the best young defensive players in the NFL. They were both ranked among the NFL Network’s top 35 players this summer (McCoy at 28, David at 35, based on a vote of fellow NFL players). And in ESPN’s NFLRank series, analysts rated McCoy as the league’s 19th best defensive player and David the 25th.

McCoy (6-foot-4, 300 pounds) has made the Pro Bowl each of the past two years, living up to the expectations from when he was the third overall pick out of Oklahoma in 2010. He had career highs of 50 tackles and 9.5 sacks last season before being named first-team All-Pro. He has 10 tackles and two sacks so far this year.

David (6-1, 233) was named a first-team All-Pro last year, even though he was somehow snubbed from the Pro Bowl. A second-round pick out of Nebraska in 2012, he has started every game of his career, ranking in the top-7 in the NFL in tackles each season. He had five interceptions and two forced fumbles last year and has two more forced fumbles this year.

Here’s what the Saints had to say about Tampa Bay’s dynamic duo this week:

McCoy
McCoy
 OT Zach Strief on McCoy: “Gerald McCoy, to me, is as good of a football player as we see every year. His get-off is as good as anybody in the NFL. I’d like to say that he’s cheating sometimes. He’s guessing, but he’s good at that. I think he’s very good at getting a feel for when that guy’s going, when the ball’s coming out. And he’s explosive, as explosive a three technique as you’re gonna see. He can essentially take away your greatest advantage as an offensive lineman, which is that we know the snap count and you don’t.

“And honestly I think he’s a guy that plays the game the right way. I respect him as a player and as a guy. You just kind of get the feeling -- I’ve never seen him practice, but I’d be willing to bet you he works his butt off in practice. He does things the right way, goes about things the right way. He’s a really good athlete, works hard, pursues, penetrates [and is] stout [and] strong. There’s probably no other D-lineman I respect in the NFL more than him.”

OT Terron Armstead on McCoy: “About as elite of a get-off that you would see in NFL history, really. I mean this guy’s moving before we’re moving. So we just have to try to counter that, knock him off his base as much as we can, try to do some things to change up his get-off tempo. That get-off alone, it affects both the run and the pass. I mean, he lives in the backfield. So we gotta get our hands on him quick.”

Coach Sean Payton on McCoy: “McCoy is a huge factor. He does a great job of anticipating the snap.”

David
 Payton on David: “I said this a year ago, if there was one player that I thought deserved to be on that Pro Bowl roster based on what I saw, which was a lot of tape, it was him. … He is one of the better inside linebackers that we see, not only in the base but in the nickel.

“He’s challenging in that if you’re in sub or if you’re in your third down or passing situations, he’s usually that weak inside linebacker [who's] handling that back or carrying that tight end, depending on the coverage. I think he’s a player [who] runs well. He’s got instincts. … I think he’s an outstanding football player who’s got real good awareness in zone [coverage]. In man, he can match up with some of those challenging players. And you can see right away now that nothing has changed [under new Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith]. He’s doing a very good job in their scheme.”

Armstead on David: “Anywhere the ball’s going, he’s going. Wherever you see the ball, that’s where he’s trying to get to. So if I come in contact with him, I’m gonna try to put my hands on him.”

RB Pierre Thomas on David: “You gotta give it to him. He is good in that open field. That’s something we’ve seen, and we know the type of talent he has. That’s a dangerous person when you get him in the open field like that. … Just his knowledge of the game and being at the right place at the right time. That’s what really stands out to me.”
METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints left tackle Terron Armstead said he was “fully cleared” to return from the concussion that sidelined him during last Sunday night’s loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

Armstead
Armstead was listed as “limited” during team drills in Wednesday’s practice. But he is confident he’ll play Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“Any symptoms of anything kind of went away pretty fast, so I had a feeling I was gonna be good to go for this week,” said Armstead, who took a knee to the helmet from Saints running back Travaris Cadet during the first quarter.

On the flip side, four players were held out of Saints team drills Wednesday. Running back Mark Ingram remained out with the broken hand that has sidelined him since Week 2 -- increasing the likelihood he won’t return until after the Week 6 bye, at the earliest.

Center Jonathan Goodwin did not practice because of a neck injury after he battled an ankle injury last week. And cornerback Corey White was held out of team drills with a foot injury. The severity of those injuries is unknown.

Fullback Erik Lorig (ankle) also remained out, as he has been all season. But safety Marcus Ball (hamstring) practiced on a limited basis for the first time this season.

Also limited for the Saints on Wednesday were linebacker David Hawthorne (ankle) and cornerback Patrick Robinson (thigh).
METAIRIE, La. – There were no updates available Monday on New Orleans Saints left tackle Terron Armstead’s status for this week's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after he left this past Sunday night’s game early with a concussion.

Coach Sean Payton said Armstead will go through the NFL’s mandatory concussion-evaluation protocol during the week, and “we’ll wait and see where Terron’s at.”

Armstead
Payton did confirm that third-year pro Bryce Harris would remain Armstead’s replacement if needed, after he said Harris was one of the few bright spots during the Saints’ 38-17 loss at the Dallas Cowboys.

“I thought Bryce did a pretty good job of stepping in there. Looking at the tape, he played pretty well,” Payton said of the 6-foot-6, 300-pounder, who made his NFL starting debut at left tackle after starting one game at right tackle in both 2012 and 2013.

It was especially impressive that Harris held up in a situation where the Saints were forced to throw the ball on almost every snap as the game wore on.

If Armstead can’t play, however, the Saints will have to identify an even less-proven backup option for Harris. They have two backup guard/centers on the roster in Tim Lelito and Senio Kelemete, but neither was cross-trained at tackle this summer. Rookie Tavon Rooks could be activated from the practice squad. Or the Saints could look elsewhere for help.

Saints Camp Report: Day 15

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

Saints Camp Report: Day 8

August, 2, 2014
Aug 2
6:50
PM ET
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New Orleans Saints training camp:
  • The Saints weren’t keeping score in Saturday’s scrimmage. But it was a clear victory for the offense – especially considering Drew Brees was sidelined by an oblique strain. Backup QB Ryan Griffin was particularly impressive, but he and Luke McCown both had some highlights. I already broke down the big performances from receiver Brandin Cooks and tight end Jimmy Graham. The Saints’ run game was equally productive. And the defense was even flagged for 12 men on the field at one point, which led to some very vocal disappointment from coordinator Rob Ryan. ... There were a few high points for the defense (some Keenan Lewis pass breakups in the red zone, safety Marcus Ball's interception and Junior Galette's pass rushes). But they still walked away with a salty taste in their mouths. “I think the No. 1 thing for us as a defense is that you don’t want to give up big plays, and you’ve got to tackle. We gave up a few big plays and didn’t tackle too well,” linebacker Curtis Lofton said. “You’re going to get that in your first live tackling and stuff, but as a defense we’ve just got to get better.”
  • I was especially impressed with the Saints’ run game, which has looked strong throughout the first eight days of camp. Mark Ingram had several nice runs, including a sharp cutback for a touchdown between blockers Tim Lelito and Terron Armstead (both of whom stood out more than once). Khiry Robinson showed some great burst during a long gain on a screen pass. And Travaris Cadet tore up the third-string defense a couple times.
  • There hasn’t been much buzz around Ball this summer since he has been running with the third string. And Galette said he knew Ball was disappointed by his start in OTAs. But the former Canadian Football League standout stepped up in his biggest audition yet. He showed great instincts on the interception, shooting in front of Cooks to pick off McCown. He also had a sack on a blitz and a nice run stop. Ball even got the crowd involved, turning and yelling to the “Who Dats!” “The one thing I would say based on the film study was his ability to tackle in the open field, and he has really good football instincts. The interception he had today was a good example of that,” said head coach Sean Payton, who credited player personnel director Ryan Pace and the scouts. “The ball kind of finds him, and it did a lot when we watched the tape. He was very, very productive in the CFL, and I think he has a chance to be a real good special teams player.”
  • There was an intense moment when Kenny Vaccaro tackled Graham from behind by grabbing him up near the shoulder pads. It was nearly a horse-collar tackle, and Graham wasn’t happy. He shoved Vaccaro after the play. … Vaccaro was obviously fired up for the live scrimmage. He also laid a big hit on running back Robinson at one point.
  • The Saints will be off the field until Monday at 4 p.m. ET. Players will have Sunday off, then they’ll come back and watch film of the scrimmage Monday before weightlifting, meetings and the afternoon practice.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. – The guy generating the most buzz at New Orleans Saints camp this summer has been rookie receiver Brandin Cooks – and rightfully so.

But a player who quietly seems to be drawing the same level of excitement within the Saints’ organization is second-year left tackle Terron Armstead.

The supremely athletic big man has looked outstanding at times, especially during run-blocking drills on Thursday. And from talking with folks, I think the expectation is that he could not only be solid in his first full season as a starter – but ultimately develop into a really special player.

[+] EnlargeTerron Armstead
Michael Shroyer/USA TODAY SportsDrew Brees said that the confidence of Terron Armstead, center, is ideal for a left tackle.
Coach Sean Payton agreed with that assessment, though he didn’t get carried away.

“Yeah. We’re not ready to put him in Canton yet. But he’s very athletic, and I would agree. He’s got a lot of the traits that you would look for at that position,” said Payton, who was impressed with how quickly Armstead matured after being thrown into the starting lineup in Week 16 last season.

“I think in a short period of time, Carolina [in Week 16], and then on to the next week, you saw a rookie player begin to emerge,” Payton said. “And by the time we were into the postseason, you began to see a player that was playing with confidence. And now clearly you’re seeing that. Now he knows what to do. He’s very athletic. And to his credit, he has made the adjustment and done a great job of competing. So that’s been a good sign.”

Armstead (6-foot-5, 304 pounds) admits he is most natural as a run-blocker after making the transition from Arkansas-Pine Bluff to the NFL last year as a third-round draft choice. And that has been evident on several plays.

But he has also looked pretty good in one-on-one pass-rush drills, even though another dynamic athlete, Junior Galette, has been giving him all he can handle.

And I’ll credit colleague Gus Kattengell for pointing out Armstead’s role in one of the biggest highlight plays of camp – Cooks’ screen-pass touchdown earlier in the week. On replay, you can see that Armstead helped clear Cooks’ path with a dominant seal block against safety Rafael Bush.

“You love everything you see. Not only just his talent, but you see it in his eyes,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “You see guys that when there is a big challenge ahead of them, you sense some fear, you sense some nerves. What I see with him is intensity and confidence, and that is what you love to see in a left tackle, ready for any type of challenge.”

Other players have noted Armstead’s confidence level, as well, including recently signed veteran center Jonathan Goodwin, who said, “You come in here and see his demeanor, he doesn’t look like a second-year player.”

And I feel like I’ve seen a much more confident version of Armstead in media interviews, dating back to the beginning of the offseason.

But when I asked Armstead about that Thursday, he said “comfort level” might be a better term than confidence.

“I’ve always had confidence. I wanted to start right away in Week 1 last year,” Armstead said, even though he admits he probably wasn’t ready.

“It’s definitely night and day [from the start of last year’s training camp],” said Armstead, who added that the game quickly started to slow down for him with each passing start he made at the end of last season.

“The terminology from Drew my first snap, I could’ve swore he was speaking Chinese or Spanish or something,” Armstead cracked.

Armstead’s athletic ability has always been “off the charts,” as Goodwin put it. He ran the fastest 40-yard dash time by an offensive lineman in the history of the NFL scouting combine (4.71 seconds) and registered a vertical leap of 34.5 inches.

But Armstead is hardly relying on that.

Right tackle Zach Strief said Armstead’s work ethic is impressive. He watches a ton of film and picks the brains of veterans. Armstead even reached out to former Saints Hall of Famer Willie Roaf (a Pine Bluff native) to talk shop and pick up some pointers this summer.

“He’s still very young,” Strief said. “But all the things you’d say that you want to see him do, he’s doing them.”
» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation's Mike Triplett examines the three biggest issues facing the New Orleans Saints heading into training camp.

Offensive line: After ranking among the NFL’s elite units for half a decade, the Saints’ offensive line has suddenly become one of the team’s biggest question marks. It still has a chance to be one of New Orleans’ strengths -- led by Pro Bowl guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs and veteran right tackle Zach Strief -- but the Saints need to clean up the inconsistency they displayed up front last season while also breaking in two new full-time starters at left tackle and center. The line is the key to the Saints’ two biggest priorities on offense this season: running the ball with more consistency and giving Drew Brees time to hit some more explosive plays down the field.

The good news is there’s plenty of reason for optimism: Second-year left tackle Terron Armstead has the potential to be a great player; the Saints have two strong candidates for the center job in youngster Tim Lelito and veteran Jonathan Goodwin; and the line was playing terrific by the end of last season. This was especially true during the playoffs after Strief said they got better at identifying their strengths and weaknesses. They need that progress to continue.

Cornerback: The Saints might be building the NFL’s best secondary east of Seattle, led by young stars such as cornerback Keenan Lewis, safety Kenny Vaccaro and newly signed safety Jairus Byrd. However, they need to find out which other cornerbacks they can rely on among a group loaded with both talent and question marks. None of the candidates are sure things. But with so many options, one or two of them are bound to emerge.

The most intriguing is probably future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey, whom the Saints signed in free agency in hopes that he still has a standout season left in him. Third-year pro Corey White has shown promise, but also some growing pains, so far. Former first-round draft pick Patrick Robinson had a great start to his career but needs to bounce back from his 2012 struggles and a knee injury that wiped out his 2013 season. Second-round draft pick Stanley Jean-Baptiste is a big corner with big potential, but he might need time to develop. Throw second-year pro Rod Sweeting into the mix, and a few other young guys, and this should easily rank as the most compelling position group to watch this summer.

Road woes: If it’s possible to address this issue during training camp, the Saints will find a way. Their struggles on the road last season derailed their Super Bowl chances. They’ve got to find a way to win enough road games in the regular season to make sure they’re playing at home in the playoffs -- where they are truly dominant inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints’ road performance will be especially important early on since they play three of their first four games on the road, including a critical Week 1 showdown at division rival Atlanta.

Coach Sean Payton and Brees were already stressing the importance of their road performance this summer. Although they’re confident in their ability to travel (especially after a playoff win at Philadelphia last season), they’re well aware of the need to handle things such as communication better. Payton broke down statistics for the team this summer and even pumped crowd noise into practices during OTAs -- something he had never done so early in the offseason. If nothing else, they’ll get used to hotel living, as they’ll spend three weeks at their new training camp site at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia.

Saints' biggest key to success

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
12:00
PM ET
Drew Brees is 35 years old, but I see no reason to expect any significant drop-off in his performance in the next three seasons -– especially because the savvy quarterback doesn’t rely solely on a big arm. As long as Brees stays healthy, New Orleans should remain among the NFL’s elite Super Bowl contenders through 2016 and beyond.

Brees
So far, the Saints have done a remarkable job of continually replenishing the roster with new young stars around Brees. The defense is arguably in better shape now than it has ever been in the Brees-Sean Payton era –- and they don’t have a single player remaining from their 2009 Super Bowl championship roster.

The key for the Saints will be to keep reshaping their offense the same way, particularly at the line and receiver positions. The Saints need recent draft picks such as left tackle Terron Armstead and receivers Brandin Cooks and Kenny Stills pan out so they remain an elite offensive unit.

For now, veteran standouts such as receiver Marques Colston and linemen Jahri Evans, Ben Grubbs and Zach Strief are still in the tail end of their primes. But it’s possible that one or more will need to be replaced over the next three seasons due to a drop in production, a rise in salary or both.

The offensive line, in particular, is going through one of its biggest transitions right now. Armstead is taking over the vital left tackle spot, while second-year pro Tim Lelito and veteran Jonathan Goodwin are battling over the vacated center job. The Saints’ line showed more inconsistency this past season than usual before finishing strong. They need to prove they're still a strength and not a question mark going forward.
A position-by-position look at the New Orleans Saints' draft needs, ranked in order of importance from 1-12:

Current depth chart:

Zach Strief, signed through 2018

Terron Armstead, signed through 2016

Bryce Harris, scheduled to become restricted free agent in 2015

Marcel Jones, scheduled to become restricted free agent in 2017

Ty Nsekhe, signed through 2015

Draft possibilities: We've now reached the point on this list where I wouldn't be surprised to see the Saints use their first-round pick on any of these top six positions.

The Saints don’t have an urgent need here since they're high on left tackle Armstead's potential and they just re-signed right tackle Strief to a four-year deal as a free agent. Plus, Harris and Jones give them backup options with potential. However, this position is important enough that the Saints won't ignore talent if they have their highest grade on a tackle prospect at any point.

Virginia's Morgan Moses and Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio are two prospects expected to be drafted in the late-first or early-second rounds. I'd call them long shots to land in New Orleans -- but not stunners.

Previous entries:

No. 12 Kicker/punter

No. 11 Quarterback

No. 10 Running back

No. 9 Safety

No. 8 Defensive line

No. 7 Tight end
They say it takes three years to properly rate a draft class. But it’s clear that the New Orleans Saints are already sold on many of last year’s rookies.

Safety Kenny Vaccaro (first round), left tackle Terron Armstead (third round), nose tackle John Jenkins (third round), receiver Kenny Stills (fifth round), running back Khiry Robinson (undrafted) and center Tim Lelito (undrafted) are all expected to play major roles this season, among others.

In fact, the Saints’ high hopes for those players helped inspire a lot of the dramatic moves they made this offseason:
  • They traded away running back Darren Sproles, in part because they want to get Robinson more touches.
  • They released receiver Lance Moore, in part because Stills already supplanted him as a starter last season.
  • They didn’t re-sign left tackle Charles Brown or spend big on any other veteran left tackles because of their faith in Armstead.
  • They let center Brian de la Puente leave in free agency, in part because of their belief in Lelito’s potential.
  • They released safety Roman Harper and let safety Malcolm Jenkins get away in free agency, in part because of Vaccaro’s dynamic debut last year.
  • They worked out a significant pay cut with veteran nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley, in part because he’ll be in a timeshare with Jenkins.
  • And they let defensive end Tom Johnson leave as a restricted free agent, in part because of undrafted rookie Glenn Foster's impressive performance last year.

From top to bottom, it’s entirely possible that this could wind up being an all-time great draft class for the Saints -- though it’s still far too early to bring up any comparisons to 2006, 1986 or 1981.

Vaccaro has generated the most buzz so far. A versatile safety in coverage and run support, he played all over the field as a full-time starter last year and finished third in the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year voting. ESPN scouting Insider Matt Williamson described Vaccaro as a “eight-or-10 Pro Bowl type of player.”

Armstead could wind up being just as important if he can lock down the critical left tackle job. He showed promise last season after taking over the job in December and improving through each of his four starts.

Robinson might be the most fascinating of the bunch. The product of West Texas A&M exploded onto the scene during the playoffs last year. And Saints coach Sean Payton revealed that his mentor Bill Parcells compared Robinson to Curtis Martin.

Stills and Jenkins look like long-time starters in the making. Lelito could have that same potential. And fellow sophomores like Foster, pass-rusher Rufus Johnson, cornerback Rod Sweeting, linebacker Kevin Reddick, tight end Josh Hill and quarterback Ryan Griffin could all wind up playing bigger roles down the road, as well.

The most important part of the Saints’ 2013 draft class is that it has allowed the Saints to spend big in other key areas -- like the addition of Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd in free agency.

I spoke with ESPN analyst Louis Riddick recently about whether the Saints have proved that teams can thrive by pushing the salary-cap envelope each year. And he said to make that work, it’s essential that teams keep finding “cheap, affordable labor that is playing at a high level.

As Riddick pointed out, that’s something the Saints have been great at in recent years. And it’s something teams like the Dallas Cowboys have not been able to do consistently.

“That's a testament to (general manager Mickey Loomis) and Sean and the rest of the scouts down there,” Riddick said.
One thing is for sure. Champ Bailey's new teammates with the New Orleans Saints are fired up about the arrival of the 12-time Pro Bowler and future Hall of Famer.

Several of the Saints’ players expressed their excitement to play alongside one of the NFL’s all-time great defensive backs, via social media. Here’s a sampling:

.
The New Orleans Saints could still “very well” re-sign center Brian de la Puente or another veteran in free agency, coach Sean Payton said Wednesday at the NFL meetings in Orlando, Fla.

Payton spoke highly of second-year lineman Tim Lelito as a possible contender for the role, as well. And he said it appears to be a good draft class for interior linemen. But he said the Saints have not finalized their plans for the position yet.

“It’s still unfolding, so it’d be premature to say, ‘Hey, here’s our plan today,’” Payton said. “We feel we’ve got some good young linemen in the building, and I’m sure that as we get back to New Orleans and we still continue to look at our boards, I wouldn’t be surprised if there possibly is a player signed.

“But Tim Lelito would be a guy that’s gonna be in the mix, someone that will be competing for that opportunity. Well see who he’s gonna be competing against. But he’s someone that we feel has a chance to be that player. And yet we think there could be the potential to have someone (else). And it could very well be a guy like de la Puente or another guy who’s out there.”

De la Puente visited with the Washington Redskins last week, and other teams have shown interest. The Saints remain in play as he mulls his options, according to league sources.

That list of other veteran possibilities includes former Saints Pro Bowl center Jonathan Goodwin, who remains unsigned after three years with the San Francisco 49ers.

Or the Saints could wind up drafting a potential center. Payton briefly mentioned the interior line positions while discussing what holes the Saints still have to fill and what their priorities might be in the NFL draft.

“You always put a value on corners and pass rushers, defensively,” Payton said. “I think offensively we’ve been able to hit on some young linemen. We had six (undrafted) free agents from last year’s class make the team. So I think that you look at your linemen and you look at the board, and are we going to be able to find an inside player potentially. You don’t stop looking for a tight end. … It’s a deep draft we think at receiver, so there are a lot of teams that are going to be able to draft maybe a good player there.”

One position that won’t be a priority for the Saints in the draft is left tackle after Terron Armstead finished strong in that role during his rookie season in 2013. Payton made it clear that the Saints plan to stick with the third-round pick from Arkansas-Pine Bluff going forward.

“I think that Charles (Brown) came in and did a good job for us (last season), but it was nice to have had a chance to evaluate Terron and then see the production we got from him,” Payton said. “That clears things up a little bit as you approach the draft, as opposed to getting through the season possibly not playing and maybe not having the exposure, too. I think he got better each week.”

W2W4: Saints at Eagles

January, 4, 2014
Jan 4
2:10
PM ET
PHILADELPHIA – During the week, I’ve broken down several players and matchups that I think will have the biggest impact on tonight’s playoff game between the New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles. Among them:


Here are a few more things to keep an eye on in this week’s expanded edition of What 2 Watch 4:

Avoiding turnovers: The Eagles come into this game with the 32nd-ranked pass defense in the NFL. But when the Saints were asked about that number this week, they often pointed to another one – the Eagles’ 31 takeaways, which tied for third in the NFL.

Turnovers are always one of the biggest factors in any football game. But they’ve especially loomed large for the Saints in their road losses this year. They’ve got to avoid those early turnovers that swing the momentum toward the home team.

“They’re really good at causing turnovers. They’ve been doing that very, very well lately,” tight end Jimmy Graham said. “And obviously on the road we have to be able to protect the ball. That’s kind of been our downfall on the road. And if we can do that [Saturday], we give ourselves a chance.”

Rattling Foles? On the flip side, recent history suggests the Saints will have trouble forcing turnovers in this game. Eagles quarterback Nick Foles threw just two interceptions all season after taking over as the starter early in the year. And according to ESPN Stats & Information, the Saints have collected a league-low four turnovers since Week 9, while the Eagles have surrendered a league-low five turnovers in that span.

But this will still be quite a test of nerves for Foles, a second-year pro, in his biggest game to date. The Saints’ duo of young pass-rushers Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette need to create pressure on him, and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will certainly try and confuse him with certain looks.

“I think he’s just the glue to it,” Saints safety Roman Harper said. “I think he really has a great understanding of what they’re trying to get done each play. He gets the ball in there. He’s accurate. He holds onto the ball and gets it where it needs to be. He’s not flustered by pressure.”

Jimmy Graham: The Eagles’ McCoy and the Saints’ Graham might both have a worthy case to be considered the top playmaker in the NFL this year. Graham led the league with 16 receiving touchdowns, while catching 86 passes for 1,215 yards. … And his brief playoff history is even better.

Graham has only appeared in two playoff games – after the 2011 season. He caught 12 passes for 158 yards and three touchdowns in those two games, including a 66-yard catch-and-run score that almost lifted to the Saints to a come-from-behind win at San Francisco.

“Obviously last year was my first year not in the playoffs, and it just didn’t feel right,” said Graham, who was injured during the playoffs in his rookie year. “So to be back in a big game and in the playoffs is special. And obviously if you’re a good player, you have to play better. And if you’re an OK player, you’ve got to play good. That’s what the playoffs is about. You have to bring your A game. And the tempo, how physical the game is, everything is a new level in the playoffs. So, obviously, I’m excited for it.”

Armstead vs. Cole: Saints rookie left tackle Terron Armstead got his wish this week. He was barely approached by the media after being swarmed during his first two weeks on the job. But even though he has now settled in with two career starts under his belt, the pressure won’t back off now that he’s in the playoffs.

And neither will the level of the opposition. Eagles outside linebacker Trent Cole has been one of the league’s top pass-rushers for nearly a decade, with 79 career sacks in the regular season. And the 6-foot-3, 270-pounder has been especially hot lately. All eight of his sacks came over the last eight games of the season.

“He’s a veteran guy that’s got a lot of career sacks. He’s proven to know how to rush the passer,” said Armstead, who said his mindset hasn’t changed from the past two weeks. “I’m just gonna approach every game the same, with the same focus and preparation.”

Armstead happy to go unnoticed Sunday

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
10:00
AM ET
NEW ORLEANS -- Drew Brees completed his first 11 passes in Sunday's 42-17 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And by the time the first half was over, Brees had thrown four touchdown passes -- three of them from 40 yards or more.

You may not have noticed what the left tackle was doing during those plays. But Terron Armstead is perfectly happy if that's the case.

Armstead
That's exactly what the Saints' rookie said was his goal earlier in the week -- to go unnoticed in his second career start.

"That was the plan," Armstead said with a smile.

When asked if he's OK with Brees getting all the credit, Armstead said, "That's fine with me. Don't give me none."

Armstead did have at least one hiccup -- when defensive end Adrian Clayborn beat him for a shared sack with defensive tackle Gerald McCoy on a third-and-long in the second quarter.

But for the most part, Armstead operated in the shadows all day while the Saints racked up 468 yards. It was a far cry from the spotlight he was under while allowing 2.5 sacks and committing two false start penalties one week earlier at Carolina.

"I felt a lot more comfortable today," Armstead said. "Just from week 1 to week 2, being with the first unit again for another week, felt a little more comfortable."

Brees said he talked to Armstead late in the fourth quarter, and Armstead said it was like "night and day" from the previous week.

"Just in regards to that maturation process and experience level, even with just one game under his belt," Brees said. "Kinda knowing what to expect. You know, the feelings and emotions going into a game, then obviously as the game unfolds, how you play it and technique and all those things. He's got a great group around him, so that helps. But he did great today."

Of course there will still be growing pains for the third-round draft pick from Arkansas-Pine Bluff, who hadn't played an offensive snap until he was thrust into the starting lineup in place of struggling veteran Charles Brown last week.

But Sunday did help vindicate coach Sean Payton for the faith he showed in the rookie. And the confidence in his development should only continue to increase.

The Saints only allowed one sack in the game -- an overall improvement after allowing 10 over the previous two weeks.

"Like I said, he did a pretty good job last week, obviously with tough conditions on the road," Payton said. "Without having looked at the tape, we were getting a lot of pressures, a lot of safety blitzes today, a lot of linebacker pressures. It made the running game 'feast or famine,' if you will. ... We felt that way coming into the game that we were going to see that. I thought those guys up front really did a good job in giving Drew time."

SPONSORED HEADLINES

NFC SOUTH SCOREBOARD

Sunday, 11/23
Monday, 11/24