NFC South: Travaris Cadet

Saints on Hard Knocks, emergency QB

September, 5, 2014
Sep 5
12:00
PM ET
METAIRIE, La. – This was a jam-packed week for New Orleans Saints news. So I wanted to make sure some of the week’s interesting notes and quotes didn’t get left on the cutting-room floor. Here’s some of the best of the rest:

Scouting Hard Knocks? Since the Week 1 opponent Atlanta Falcons were featured on HBO’s training camp documentary “Hard Knocks” this summer, a handful of players were asked if they watched to try and gain any scouting advantage. I know a lot of them were watching, based on their tweets during the opening episode. But I didn’t find any who said they gleaned any scouing tips from it.

Quarterback Drew Brees, a thorough guy who typically turns over every stone, said he simply didn’t have time. (I guess the combination of preparing for the season, recovering from an oblique strain and bringing a new baby into the world adds up to a good excuse.)

Coach Sean Payton, however, did say that the Saints made sure to keep tabs on the all-access show.

“Typically, I would never have the time to watch it,” Payton said, adding, “I don’t even know what channel it’s on.”

“But,” Payton continued, “in this case what you will do is have people that have the time right now maybe scan through the episodes to see if there is something that you might gain from it. You would look to see if there was anything cadence-related, anything personnel-related. Look, there is that conflict that always exists with what they are looking for is not always in the best interest of the team they are covering, despite what they say. I think that our personnel people would pay attention to it and bring something to our attention.”

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees, Travaris Cadet and Jimmy Graham
AP Photo/Steven SenneTravaris Cadet would likely be the Saints' emergency quarterback this season.
Cadet the third QB: With longtime former receiver and emergency third quarterback Lance Moore now with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the New Orleans Saints need a new backup backup plan. Payton said they would go with running back Travaris Cadet if needed in a pinch.

“We took out stats and did a study here last week, and the two guys that have played the most amount of quarterback would be Travaris Cadet and Jairus Byrd,” Payton explained. “Now, Jairus Byrd’s numbers were better, but Travaris played in college. So Travaris would probably be someone to handle that role.

“We just recently did that and talked about it. Same thing with the snapper, the punter and the kicker. We’ll have a period tomorrow, just an ‘Are you ready?’ period where hypothetically the long snapper is down, hypothetically the punter is down, hypothetically the kicker is down, and just take a snap. You hope you go through the season and it doesn’t come up, you just have to be prepared if it does.”

Play-calling mystery: Payton, however, did not reveal who will be calling plays for the Saints’ offense this season, joking that, “We’ll probably see how the coin toss goes.” Payton said this summer that he might consider turning those duties back over to offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr., who handled them for most of 2011 and 2012. Either way, both coaches have stressed it will be a collaborative effort. And since they’ve been together since 2006, the offense wouldn’t change much either way.

Worth repeating: When asked what it’s like to face the Falcons without retired tight end Tony Gonzalez, Payton talked for a while about Gonzalez’s great skill set. Then he said, “We sent him his retirement card.”

Worth watching: Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan moonlighted as an actor on FXX’s “The League” this week. He joined Cleveland Browns tight end Jordan Cameron on the episode, which had some fun with their easily-mixed-up names.

Worth a click: If you want to scout the enemy this week, check out ESPN’s Falcons team page here. And follow ESPN Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure on Twitter @vxmcclure23.

Twelve out of 13 ESPN analysts picked the Saints over the Falcons in Week 1. Make it 14 of 15 if you include Vaughn and myself.

ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter talks about the Saints being at the forefront of the growing trend toward investing more in safeties in the NFL.
METAIRIE, La. -- It's hard to imagine running back Travaris Cadet playing a huge role for the New Orleans Saints this year because he's stuck in such a deep position group.

But then again, it's hard to ignore how many opportunities the third-year pro has been getting so far in offseason practices -- and how well he's taking advantage of them.

Cadet has been showing off his speed and elusiveness while both running the football and catching passes out of the backfield.

If he keeps this up throughout training camp and the preseason, Cadet may indeed get a chance to take over a big chunk of that runner/receiver role that Darren Sproles played in New Orleans' offense before being traded to the Philadelphia Eagles this offseason.

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees, Travaris Cadet and Jimmy Graham
AP Photo/Steven SenneTravaris Cadet wants to be "a complete player in all areas, not being a master of a few things but a master of everything."
"I feel like it's a great opportunity. You know, Sproles is gone now and that's in the past. But I learned a lot from Sproles while he was here," said Cadet, who said he's been trying to prove he can run the football as well as catch passes and return kickoffs.

"(I want to be) a complete player in all areas, not being a master of a few things but a master of everything. I want to be a mastermind of every position they ask me to play," Cadet said. "This is an opportunity that comes around once in a lifetime. I'm going to do my best to take advantage of the opportunity. And just take it one day at a time, keep working."

Even with Sproles gone, Cadet is still behind running backs Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson in the current hierarchy -- and the Saints would probably love to find more touches for all three of those guys, as well.

Plus, rookie receiver Brandin Cooks is expected to be used in some of the same ways Sproles was at times, catching screens and possibly running the ball on occasion to take advantage of his speed in open space.

But you can never doubt Saints coach Sean Payton's ability to find creative uses for talented offensive weapons like Cadet, who could be yet another mismatch in New Orleans' diverse offense.

And the Saints have clearly been high enough on Cadet to keep him around the last two years, when the backfield was just as crowded.

Cadet had no rushing attempts last year and just two catches for 5 yards -- though one of them was a 3-yard touchdown catch at New England. As a rookie in 2011, Cadet had five catches for 44 yards and one rush for 5 yards.

His role expanded even more last year as a kickoff returner, where he projects to be the No. 1 guy this year. Cadet returned nine kickoffs last season for an average of 26.6 yards and 26 kickoffs in 2012 for an average of 26.5 yards.

Payton seemed impressed by Cadet's overall progress when asked if he could basically take over some of Sproles' plays in the Saints' offense.

"I think a year ago, I don't know that I would have been able to tell you that," Payton said. "The focus for him was the running game per se. Even when he came here in 2012, he was with the receivers (some). That element with regards to running routes and catching the football, he would be further ahead. But we saw him last year as a guy who transitioned that we handed the ball to. That's something he's worked hard on.

"He's a guy with good hands, he's sudden with a good change of direction. And I think that is one of the things we'll look for in this upcoming training camp. He's been able to do a lot of the things we've asked Darren to do in the passing game. You just keep building on that. He's a good young talent."
METAIRIE, La. -- Once again, the two players who stood out most to me during the New Orleans Saints' minicamp practice on Tuesday were receiver Nick Toon and running back Travaris Cadet.

Toon
Cadet
Toon did drop one pass, but he made a series of nice catches throughout the day -- including a deep ball from Drew Brees when Toon got behind cornerback Rod Sweeting.

Cadet, meanwhile, showed an impressive combination of speed and elusiveness while being used as both a runner and receiver out of the backfield.

Two disclaimers must be added when it comes to both of these players. For one thing, this is the stage of camp where there is still no live contact or tackling allowed, so it's easier for them to shine. For another thing, both of these players have stood out similarly during the past two offseasons without yet making significant contributions in the regular season.

However, it's noteworthy that both players are still being given a lot of opportunities to work their way into the Saints' rotation -- and so far, they're both taking advantage.

Open competitions:
  • Center Jonathan Goodwin took some snaps with the first-string offense at one point during full-team drills, though Tim Lelito spent most of the practice in that role. That's expected to be an open competition lasting deep into training camp.
  • Cornerback Patrick Robinson again spent some time with the first-string defense in certain drills. Champ Bailey and Corey White also spent time with the first string. All three will get looks at the No. 2 cornerback job across from No. 1 corner Keenan Lewis.
  • I consider veteran Shayne Graham to be a strong front-runner for the kicker job. But he'll have to out-duel young challenger Derek Dimke, who has performed well in the past two preseasons without cracking a roster yet. The media consensus was that Graham went 2-for-3 and Dimke 3-for-3 on filed-goal attempts Tuesday. That battle will likely be based heavily on how they perform in preseason games.
Other highlights:
  • Receiver Kenny Stills made the play of the day, reeling in a pass from Brees with one hand while being blanketed in coverage by safety Kenny Vaccaro. Brees might have been sacked on the play if it was a real game situation. But in this case, he was able to throw the ball up for grabs, and Stills came down with it.
  • The defense won its share of battles, too. Safety Rafael Bush intercepted Brees during 7-on-7 passing drills. The way Bush shot up toward the ball uncontested in the middle of the field, it almost looked like he was the intended receiver. … Vaccaro and Lewis also aggressively broke up passes by Brees.
  • Second-year quarterback Ryan Griffin had some highs and lows as the backup quarterback competition appears to be wide open between him and veteran Luke McCown. Griffin connected on three consecutive TD passes in those 7-on-7 drills. Later, however, he overthrew a pass that was intercepted by safety Marcus Ball in full-team drills.
  • Fullback Erik Lorig looked fluid while running out of the backfield, catching a pass in the flat and turning upfield. That's something fullbacks have always done in the Saints' offense, and Lorig looks like he'll continue that trend -- especially with his bigger size at 6-foot-4.
  • Rookie receiver Brandon Coleman continued to show some inconsistency with at least two drops Tuesday. But he did make his most impressive catch that I've seen yet when he reached to reel in a deep ball near the sideline. It wasn't clear if the ball had sailed too far out of bounds, though.
METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints’ OTA practice on Thursday was open to the media. Here’s my quick take on the observations that stood out most:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And as expected, tight end Jimmy Graham was not present since he is still unsigned.
New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said there was no surprise and there were no hard feelings over Jimmy Graham's decision to fight his franchise tag designation.

Graham
Loomis said he wasn't exactly sure why Graham waited so long to file the grievance, asking to be considered a wide receiver instead of a tight end. But it was a move the Saints have anticipated for a while, and he said Graham's camp let him know it was coming last week.

"It's a negotiation," Loomis said during WWL Radio's pre-draft show. "Jimmy and his camp are trying to use every tool they can to get the best deal possible. No one should have hard feelings. It's the nature of these types of things. ...

"As I've said before, we love Jimmy Graham, we love what he's done for us. We want him to be part of our team. And hopefully we'll get something resolved sooner than later."

Other highlights from WWL's annual pre-draft show, which involves interviews with much of the coaching and scouting staffs:
  • Loomis talked more about the different philosophies when it comes to trading up or down in the draft. He was asked about the theory that teams that trade down are better off because the draft is a crapshoot and they get more rolls of the dice.

    "I don't necessarily subscribe to that," Loomis said, explaining that when you're trading up, it's for a specific player that you feel strongly about.

    He said when you sit back and wait to see what comes to you, it can be even more of a crapshoot.

  • Coach Sean Payton was asked about ESPN's Chris Mortensen speculation that the Saints might be interested in drafting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from his alma mater, Eastern Illinois, in the third round. Payton shot it down, saying it's "completely false." He stressed that he likes Garoppolo as a prospect, though.

  • Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was asked about Jadeveon Clowney and cracked, "I hope he falls to us."

  • Player personnel director Ryan Pace was asked about the possibility of being surprised by how much talent remains on the board at the start of Day 3 since this is such a deep class. And he said, "For us, that was Kenny Stills last year."

  • Special teams coordinator Greg McMahon was asked if the team has candidates to replace Darren Sproles in the return game. He said he hates to use the word "replace" since Sproles is such a special player. But he stressed that the team is excited about third-year pro Travaris Cadet, who already showed himself to be an asset as a kickoff returner over his first two seasons.
Sean Payton said the decisions to trade running back Darren Sproles and re-sign running back Pierre Thomas should not be viewed as signs that the New Orleans Saints plan to become more run-oriented.

“No, I wouldn’t say that,” Payton said while addressing the media Wednesday morning at the NFL meetings in Orlando, Fla.

Payton said it had more to do with the Saints’ stockpile of youth at the position with young backups Mark Ingram, Khiry Robinson and Travaris Cadet.

[+] EnlargeTravaris Cadet
AP Photo/Steven SenneSaints coach Sean Payton says running back Travaris Cadet, 39, will get more opportunities following the trade of Darren Sproles.
“Really it came down to a vision as to where we were at, and us feeling like we were younger at some positions,” Payton said, adding that, “Signing Pierre was important. We didn’t think we were gonna be able to handle all the running backs, both Pierre and Darren, and they’re uniquely different.”

Payton still spoke highly of Sproles, though.

“He is someone we’ve graded high,” Payton said. “No. 1, he’s very intelligent. You know, I can’t think of many, if any, times where he does something on the field that you’re not expecting him to do, and that’s a good trait. He’s very competitive, he’s a great teammate. ...

“And then the discussion of a trade came up, and there was more than two teams interested. And all of a sudden what you were hoping for was a seven becomes a six, and then all of sudden you’re discussing a fifth-round pick. And in this year’s draft, that’s pretty considerable. And I think he’s going to a good place. ... But he’s a special guy.”

As for replacing Sproles in the Saints’ offense, Payton said third-year pro Cadet is certainly in line for more opportunities, and could be used in some of the same ways that Sproles was used.

But Payton stressed that no one player will specifically “replace” a unique playmaker like Sproles.

"Over the years, offensively we've had a number of key contributors to what's been a pretty good offense. There's been times where we've done it without Marques Colston. There was an offense prior to Jimmy Graham, prior to Darren Sproles. And one of the key components is an overall understanding philosophically of where guys need to be,” Payton said. “I don't think you ever replace a skill set like Darren's. It's unique, and it's different really than our league has seen in a while with a player of his stature. But with regards to his touches, with regards to opportunities, Travaris is a guy that has played and is now going into his third year. ...

"(Cadet has) got very good ball skills. He's a guy that can run the routes in that tree, when you talk about a choice route, you talk about an option. He can play from in the backfield, but he can play from extend positions. That doesn't mean necessarily he's a wide receiver. It just means he's a running back in space.”

Payton said Cadet will remain in the mix for the Saints’ lead kickoff returner job. But he said the punt returner job (which used to be manned by Sproles and receiver Lance Moore) remains open.

“We’ll have to see how that competition plays out,” Payton said. “It’s something we’ll pay close attention to.”
Owner Tom Benson expressed confidence that his New Orleans Saints will be able to close the deal on two of the biggest issues facing his franchise and city this offseason -- re-signing tight end Jimmy Graham to a long-term contract extension and bringing the Super Bowl back to New Orleans in 2018.

Benson met with the New Orleans media during the NFL owners meetings in Orlando, Fla., on Tuesday. Here are recaps from The Times-Picayune and The Advocate.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Graham
AP Photo/Ric TapiaSaints owner Tom Benson expects the Saints to come to an agreement with Jimmy Graham eventually.
Benson joked about the Graham negotiations, saying he might have to "kick him a little bit" or bring in his secret weapon to close the deal -- his wife, Gayle. On a serious note, Benson admitted the talks could take a while like the Saints' talks with quarterback Drew Brees in 2012. But the owner said he was confident an agreement will be reached eventually.

"He's a hell of a good player, but he's also a good person," Benson said. "I'm confident we'll work out something. We just have a little bit of time to do it, that's all."

As for the Super Bowl, New Orleans would seem to be a leading contender to bring the game back for a record 11th time. The other candidates to host Super Bowl LII are Indianapolis and Minnesota. The decision is expected to be made at the next set of league meetings in May.

Benson said he doesn't believe the infamous "blackout" inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome during Super Bowl XLVII will hurt New Orleans' chances after the rest of the week was so successful.

"I feel good about it. You never know, but I feel real good about it. I plan on being there shaking a few hands just to make sure," Benson said. "I think that everybody likes New Orleans. New Orleans is known as a party town, but hey, we put on a good show for everybody."

Loomis also complimented general manager Mickey Loomis for the way he has managed the Saints' tight squeeze against the salary cap, including the recent signing of free-agent safety Jairus Byrd.

Benson, Byrd on Wilson: Benson and granddaughter Rita Benson LeBlanc issued statements on the passing of Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson on Tuesday. Benson called Wilson a "valued friend and colleague" and said the NFL "lost one of its visionaries today."

Byrd, who spent his first five seasons with the Bills, posted a message on social media: "R.I.P. Mr. Wilson. Thank you doesn't describe how truly grateful I am for the opportunity you have me to play a game I love."

Payton on Graham, Cadet: Saints coach Sean Payton hit on a variety of topics during an interview with Cox Sports TV's Mike Nabors on Tuesday. Regarding Graham's contract talks, Payton said, "I think everybody involved in the process has handled it well." And he added, "I anticipate when we start up for training camp for Jimmy Graham to be ready to go."

Among other topics, Payton suggested that third-year pro Travaris Cadet could take on "a little more of that role" that runner/receiver Darren Sproles has played in the Saints' offense over the past three years.

I don't expect a huge leap for Cadet, since I think the Saints also want to find ways to get more touches for fellow running backs Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson. But it makes sense to hear Payton express that confidence in Cadet. Payton singled out Cadet a few times late last season as someone he was trying to work into the offense at times.

Payton will speak for a full hour with the media Wednesday morning at the league meetings. Stay tuned for some early-morning updates since he begins speaking at 7:15 a.m. ET time.

Saints get a ‘B': A panel of ESPN NFL Insiders handed out free-agency grades for every team. The Saints earned a B, which ranks among the 10 best grades in the NFL (though the division-rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers drew the highest grade).

Analysts Bill Polian and Louis Riddick both mentioned the lofty price tag for Byrd, but they both said they expect him to make a big impact.

Rex on Rob: New York Jets coach Rex Ryan explained why his brother Rob and the city of New Orleans are such a good fit for each other in this Times-Picayune notebook. Also included is Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin's thoughts on newly signed Pittsburgh receiver Lance Moore.

Baby girl for Brees: Brees said that he and his wife, Brittany, will finally have their first baby girl while guesting on E’s “The Chelsea Lately” show. They’re expecting their fourth child in August. They have three sons: Baylen, Bowen and Callen.
Longtime New Orleans Saints kicker Morten Andersen was named among the 25 semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2014. Andersen, who spent the first 13 seasons of his 25-year career with the Saints, is the NFL’s all-time leading scorer with 2,544 points.

Andersen was also a semifinalist last year, but he didn’t make the cut down to 15 finalists.

Meanwhile, the Saints are well represented in this year’s Pro Bowl fan voting so far. They’re the only team with two players in the top 10 – quarterback Drew Brees at No. 2 (540,036 votes) and tight end Jimmy Graham at No. 7 (376,637 votes).

Brees on the rise: Brees needs 38 passing yards Thursday night against Atlanta to move ahead of Warren Moon into fifth place on the NFL’s all-time passing yards list. Brees is currently at 49,288 yards in his 13th NFL season.

It will take a special performance, however, for Brees to move ahead of Denver quarterback Peyton Manning in Dan Graziano’s MVP Watch for ESPN.com. Brees stayed put as a solid No. 2 this week.

Breakthrough win? The Saints will try to win for the first time ever on the NFL Network. So far, they’re 0-for-3 in prime-time games on the NFL Network (a Thursday-night loss at Atlanta last year, a Saturday-night loss at home to Dallas in 2009 and a Thursday-night loss at Chicago in 2008).

Film study extra: I forgot to add Travaris Cadet’s 82-yard kickoff return against San Francisco to my offensive film study this week, but I didn’t want the great play to be ignored.

Cadet caught the ball 3 yards deep in the end zone and followed the two-man wedge provided by blockers Jed Collins and Glenn Foster. Up-back Pierre Thomas also provided a big-time block early in the return to help clear a lane for Cadet. Tight end Josh Hill added a key block further down the field, while Cadet did a smooth job of navigating through the traffic at top speed.

Lofton shines: Also, in case you missed it, here is my defensive film study from the 49ers game. The Saints did a lot of things right in the game, including a standout performance from inside linebacker Curtis Lofton. Pro Football Focus gave Lofton his highest grade of the season (+3.7).

Worth a click:
  • ESPN’s Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure got some great insight from veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez, who insisted the team has not quit on coach Mike Smith.
  • ESPN columnist Ashley Fox weighed in on the debate over 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks’ penalized hit against Brees by pointing out that, like it or not, quarterbacks get protected for a reason.
  • WWLTV’s Thanh Truong wrote this touching piece on how longtime Saints equipment assistant Steve Landry remains close with the team while battling ALS.

Halftime report: Saints 14, 49ers 10

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
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NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Saints lead the San Francisco 49ers 14-10 at halftime, thanks to a dominant defensive performance. But there have been a series of big moments that have kept the game close.

Here are a few thoughts on the action so far:

Greer injured: The Saints' defense got off to a great start but suffered a big blow when cornerback Jabari Greer was carted off with a left knee injury in the first quarter. The exact injury has not been reported, but it looked significant. He required an air cast on the field. … Greer has been a solid veteran presence for the Saints' resurgent defense this year, so he'll be missed quite a bit. Second-year pro Corey White is a solid backup, though, and he did intercept a pass in the second quarter (before fumbling it through the end zone).

Big mistakes: White's fumble took seven potential points off the board for the Saints. After a 43-yard interception return, he got greedy and tried to extend the ball over the goal line. Even more costly was Saints receiver Lance Moore's fumbled punt return in the second quarter that gave San Francisco the ball at New Orleans' 11-yard line and led to the 49ers' only touchdown. Moore also dropped a third-down pass in the first quarter -- uncharacteristic mistakes for the veteran.

Big makeup: The Saints' special teams evened things out with an 82-yard kickoff return by Travaris Cadet in the second quarter that led to a touchdown. That's an area where the Saints haven't generated much this year. But it came at the right time.

Saints creative ‘D': Other than the 11-yard TD drive, the Saints' defense was excellent in the first half. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan showed off his creativity more than ever before. He started the game in a 3-5 alignment with only three defensive backs on the field. Later, he had only two true defensive linemen on the field with end Keyunta Dawson and outside linebacker Parys Haralson lining up as defensive tackles. The Saints also had six DBs on the field at times.

Saints' balanced offense: The Saints haven't run the ball a ton, but they've been effective when they have run it (46 yards and a touchdown on nine carries). They aren't lighting up the scoreboard, but they're doing enough to win (and the margin would be greater if not for those miscues).

Observation deck: Saints-Texans

August, 25, 2013
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There is reason for concern for the New Orleans Saints’ defense. There also is reason for hope.

Evidence of both was on display in Sunday’s 31-23 preseason victory.

Let’s start with the concern. New Orleans fans know all too well that the Saints had the league’s worst defense last season. The Saints have changed coordinators and schemes, but it looked as if nothing had changed early on.

The Texans gained 164 yards of total offense in the first quarter and the New Orleans defense struggled in all areas. But, even with Houston’s offensive starters remaining in through the end of the first half, some signs of hope emerged.

Cameron Jordan, who I think will excel as a 3-4 defensive end, came up with a sack and a quarterback pressure. Undrafted rookie Glenn Foster came up with his fourth sack of the preseason. Linebacker David Hawthorne, playing in place of the injured Jonathan Vilma, showed signs he can hold up in pass coverage. Cornerback Patrick Robinson, who struggled all of last season, had great coverage on a deep pass in the second quarter.

Oh, and one other thing besides all that -- you can bet that defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was holding back on a lot of things that the Atlanta Falcons will see in the season opener.

Some other quick observations on the Saints:
  • The Saints already have had some injury problems at linebacker and, now, they may have another one. Will Smith limped off the field in the second quarter and didn’t return. Trainers appeared to be looking at his right knee.
  • If rookie Kenny Stills hadn’t already won the third receiver job, I think he might have accomplished that Sunday. Stills had a great catch despite strong coverage on a deep sideline route. He followed that up with a touchdown catch.
  • Backup quarterback Luke McCown had another strong performance. McCown completed 10 of 14 for 118 yards and two touchdowns.
  • Reserve running back Travaris Cadet, who had some problems with fumbles earlier in the preseason, made a couple of nice catches out of the backfield. Cadet is in a competition with rookie Khiry Robinson for what is likely to be the final running back spot on the roster.
  • Receiver Andy Tanner stayed in the competition for a roster spot by making two touchdown catches.

Around the NFC South

August, 22, 2013
8/22/13
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Time for our morning run through the top headlines from around the NFC South:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Defensive end Osi Umenyiora has switched jersey numbers. Umenyiora, who wore No. 72 while playing for the New York Giants, now is wearing No. 50. Linebacker Pat Schiller had been wearing No. 50, but Umenyiora bought Schiller dinner as an incentive to make the switch.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Scott Fowler points out that the Panthers have scored just one touchdown with quarterback Cam Newton on the field this preseason. That’s why it’s important for Newton to put on a good show in Thursday night’s preseason game with Baltimore. Preseason games are meaningless, but it still would be nice to see Newton and the offense get into a rhythm.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Running back Travaris Cadet, who is fighting for a roster spot, said he has to put his two fumbles against Oakland in the past. Cadet didn’t do himself any favors with the fumbles, but he still has chance to make the roster.

Nakia Hogan points out that undrafted rookie defensive end Glenn Foster has been one of the biggest surprises of the preseason. He leads the team with three sacks and has a chance to stick around as a backup.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Gil Arcia writes that strong safety Mark Barron is prepared for a big season. I think that’s a good possibility. With the arrival of Dashon Goldson at free safety, I think Barron will spend more time in the box, where he’s at his best.

Observation deck: Saints-Raiders

August, 16, 2013
8/16/13
11:14
PM ET

The early part of Friday night’s 28-20 victory by the New Orleans Saints over the Oakland Raiders made me flash back four years.

Back in a 2009 preseason game the Saints went out to Oakland and humiliated the Raiders. I ended up writing a post in which I said New Orleans looked like it was heading for the Super Bowl. When the Saints got to the Super Bowl some five months later, some New Orleans fans pointed back to that post and said I was clairvoyant.

The truth was I wrote that tongue in cheek. I was complimenting the Saints, but I also was pointing out that the Raiders looked terrible.

I’m doing the same things now (based mostly on the way the Saints dominated the first half, which is all that matters in a preseason game). But, hey, if the Saints do end up going to the Super Bowl again, you can say you heard it here first.

Some other observations on the Saints:
  • For those worried about the pass rush, relax a bit. The Saints produced five sacks in the first half. You can put some of the blame on the makeshift Oakland offensive line. But the Saints deserve some credit, too. The first-team defense looked very good.
  • Inside linebacker Curtis Lofton sat out with an unspecified injury. Ramon Humber took his place and came up with a tackle for a loss on a running play and a sack. With inside linebacker Jonathan Vilma also missing some time after knee surgery, Humber might have a chance at some playing time in the regular season.
  • One of the more intriguing competitions is for the Saints' third-receiver spot. Rookie Kenny Stills and second-year pro Nick Toon both played well. Toon, who isn’t a prototypical deep threat, caught a 56-yard pass from Drew Brees early in the game. Stills, who does have the tools to be a deep threat, caught a 16-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter.
  • Running back Travaris Cadet didn’t help his chances of landing a roster spot as he lost a fumble in the third quarter. Cadet had another third-quarter fumble, but the Saints were able to recover that one.
  • Quarterback Seneca Wallace, who is competing with Luke McCown for the backup job behind Brees, didn’t have a good outing. The Saints turned the ball over three times while Wallace was in the game. McCown appears to have the inside track for the backup job.

Around the NFC South

August, 4, 2013
8/04/13
10:16
AM ET
Time for a Sunday morning run through some news and notes from around the division:

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Coach Greg Schiano said bringing in offensive tackle Gabe Carimi came with low risk and could bring a high reward. Carimi worked with Tampa Bay offensive line coach Bob Bostad in college at Wisconsin. Carimi was a first-round pick by Chicago, but that didn’t work out. He has a chance to get his career back on track as a backup to right tackle Demar Dotson.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Running back Travaris Cadet and receiver Joe Morgan each sustained injuries in Saturday’s scrimmage. Coach Sean Payton didn’t have any specifics on the injuries.

Bradley Handwerger writes that outside linebacker Junior Galette looked like a force as a pass rusher in the scrimmage. If Galette can do that in the regular season, Rob Ryan’s defense will have a chance to succeed.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Scott Fowler has a lengthy profile on offensive coordinator Mike Shula. He’s one of the keys to Carolina’s season I think this is the year Shula shows the world he is a good coach. He was in difficult situations when he was Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator and the University of Alabama’s head coach. I think he’ll succeed because he finally has a lot of talent to work with.

ATLANTA FALCONS

John Manasso writes that it became obvious at Friday night’s scrimmage that Kroy Biermann is competing with Stephen Nicholas at outside linebacker. Biermann has been a defensive end, but the Falcons have been using him mostly at linebacker in camp. Nicholas has been a starter in recent years, but that could be in jeopardy.
The first thing that comes to mind when you think of the New Orleans Saints is their passing game. But coach Sean Payton thinks the running game is an equally important part of the offense.

“I think oftentimes it appears that we are throwing the ball a lot and, yet, when we have been really successful, we have had good balance and I think that’s important,’’ Payton said during minicamp this week.

It sounds like Payton is committed to developing a more consistent and productive running game. But there’s a challenge that comes along with that.

The Saints have a crowded backfield with Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Travaris Cadet. Each of them does different things very well.

“I think it’s finding those things that our players do well and being committed to those things,’’ Payton said.

Sproles excels as a receiver and Cadet has some similar qualities. Thomas is an all-purpose back. But Ingram is the wild card. A first-round pick in 2011, Ingram has yet to carve out a firm role.

I get the sense that’s about to change. Ingram has the ability to run between the tackles and the Saints also seemed to be throwing to him out of the backfield a fair amount during the minicamp.

Ingram also drew some praise from Payton.

“Number one, I think he is healthy,’’ Payton said. “He is moving around real well. He looks sudden, and again this is all in shorts, but I’m excited to see him play this season. I think that obviously he will have an important role in what we do.’’
METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints just finished the first practice session of their minicamp.

Let’s take a quick run through some notes, highlights and observations:
  • Cornerback Keenan Lewis was not at practice. Coach Sean Payton said Lewis was “held out’’, but did not elaborate on the reason. Update: Nakia Hogan reports that Lewis briefly was hospitalized with stomach pains, but could be back for Wednesday's practice.
  • Jason Smith, who is competing for the starting left tackle spot, limped off the field about halfway through practice and was taken to the locker room.
  • Most of the talk about the safeties has centered on veterans Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins, and rookie Kenny Vaccaro. Harper and Jenkins worked with the first team Tuesday, and Vaccaro worked with the second team. But the one safety I saw make several big plays was backup Isa Abdul-Quddus.
  • Payton has said second-year running back Travaris Cadet has some similarities to Darren Sproles. But Cadet will have to come up with some big plays to make Payton and the coaches forget about what happened on a short pass about halfway through practice. The perfectly-thrown pass went right through Cadet’s hands and was intercepted by Corey White.
  • There clearly is a competition for the backup quarterback spot between Luke McCown and Seneca Wallace. I thought Wallace had the better performance Tuesday morning. I also think the Saints might be wise to keep Wallace. His mobility could be used on the scout team to help the defense get ready for the likes of Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick.
  • Wide receiver Jarred Fayson was the first name Payton mentioned when asked which young players stood out to him. Fayson had several nice catches. Fayson and cornerback Rod Sweeting had a brief shoving match after they collided at the end of one of Fayson’s catches.
  • Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said he was impressed by the performance of rookie linebacker Rufus Johnson. He’s working behind Will Smith and Junior Galette at “Jack’’ linebacker. I saw Johnson swat down a pass, and he looks like he has some quickness.
  • Running back Mark Ingram hasn’t been much of a threat as a pass-catcher. But the Saints seemed to be throwing to him a fair amount Tuesday. I think that might be a sign of things to come.
  • I’ll have much more on Ryan and the defense in my Thursday column. But, for now, let’s just say I was impressed with how many different defensive packages the Saints put on the field Tuesday morning.

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