NFC South: Usama Young

NFC South quick hits

July, 28, 2011
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Time for a lightning round through some headlines to keep you up to speed on all that’s happening around the NFC South.

Speaking of lightning, the thunderstorm that’s outside the windows of NFC South Blog Headquarters right now passed by One Buc Place a little bit ago. Take a look at this picture of the damage done to the huge Buccaneers flag.

The Falcons have a deal with third-round draft pick Akeem Dent.

Charlie Campbell reports that the Bucs are close to agreeing to a deal to keep guard Davin Joseph and something should be done within the next 24 hours.

New Orleans coach Sean Payton just finished addressing the media and revealed several transactions. The Saints have agreed to terms to keep Scott Shanle, Leigh Torrence, Chris Reis and Jo-Lonn Dunbar.

The Saints have agreed to terms with third-round pick Johnny Patrick.

Former New Orleans safety Usama Young has agreed to terms with Cleveland.

The Panthers have agreed to terms with veteran safety Sean Considine, who last played for Jacksonville.
Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson breaks down the safeties of each NFC South team. Today: New Orleans Saints.

Malcolm Jenkins, a 2009 first-rounder, entered the league as a big cornerback. He is a bit stiff in the hips for the aggressive schemes the Saints use -- they ask a lot from their cornerbacks -- and has now found a home at free safety. With more seasoning at his new position, Jenkins has a chance to be an excellent free safety. Gregg Williams will ask him to do a little of everything. He will cover slot wideouts, blitz, play the run, play man coverage against tight ends, play the deep half and act as a true centerfielder. He isn’t a thumper in the run game or a great tackler, and his angles and recognition need work. But he hasn’t played the position long, and these things could really improve as soon as next season. A breakout season could be in the cards for Jenkins.

Roman Harper is remembered for having a terrible game in the Saints’ playoff loss in Seattle, but he is a solid player who has a substantial role in this defense. Coverage has never been Harper’s strong suit and he takes too many penalties, but he is a very good complement to Jenkins. He will never be special, but Harper is a solid starting strong safety who makes big plays as a run stuffer and blitzer. He shows a consistent ability to change a game. Harper simply makes plays. He is a free agent, but it seems likely that he will return to New Orleans. The front seven looks to be vastly improved. He could have another big statistical season for the Saints in 2011.

Darren Sharper, Pierson Prioleau, and Matt Giordano will become free agents. Sharper has had a wonderful career and was absolutely instrumental in New Orleans’ Super Bowl run two seasons ago. A student of the game and very intelligent on the field, Sharper reads quarterbacks and gets his hands on the ball about as well as anyone in recent memory. But to think that Sharper is still the same player that he was in his prime would be foolish. Still, it would be surprising if he weren't brought back. If he returns, Sharper could still play a centerfield role on passing downs while Jenkins is used more in a joker role -- like Charles Woodson -- while New Orleans has extra defensive backs on the field. Sharper also could be a terrific mentor to Jenkins.

Prioleau was nondescript roaming the secondary, but does know what it takes to succeed at this level. He just doesn't have a lot of play-making ability at this point of his career. Prioleau also isn’t a great player on special teams, which clearly limits his value at this point. Giordano is smart and tough but is a limited athlete. Losing Giordano would not be a big deal, but the depth at this position could really be hit hard with free agent defections.

Usama Young was an early third-round pick in the 2007 draft. Young remains a bit of a corner/safety tweener and really didn’t show up on tape last year when he did see the field. He and Chris Reis should also be eligible to test the market when free agency inevitably hits. Among Prioleau, Giordano, Young and Reis, Reis seems like the best candidate to be brought back.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com. Follow Matt Williamson on Twitter @WilliamsonNFL

Saints announce tenders

March, 1, 2011
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Reaching deals with defensive tackle Shaun Rogers and kicker Garrett Hartley weren’t the only moves the New Orleans Saints were making Tuesday night.

The Saints just sent out a news release saying they have submitted tender offers to nine players -- defensive tackle Remi Ayodele, offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod, defensive end Jeff Charleston, safeties Usama Young and Roman Harper, receiver Lance Moore, guard Carl Nicks, tight end David Thomas and running back Pierre Thomas. The Saints also announced a tender was submitted on Hartley, but that will be a moot point because ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports Hartley will sign a five-year contract Wednesday.

The terms of the individual tenders weren’t announced and it’s likely they’re at several different levels. Nicks and Harper are the biggest names on the list. With the league’s uncertain labor situation, it remains to be seen what the tenders really mean.

Without a labor agreement, the league is saying tender offers can be made and rules from past years are being followed. The NFL Players Association is saying tenders aren’t valid this year. Assuming a labor agreement is reached at some point, it remains to be seen if the new deal will include changes to the tender rules on the required length of service for restricted free agency and unrestricted free agency.

Saints sitting several starters

January, 2, 2011
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NEW ORLEANS -- The Saints just announced their inactives for today’s game and it looks like they’re being cautious with some injured players.

Receiver Marques Colston, who had knee surgery Tuesday, will sit out and he’ll have plenty of company. Tight end Jeremy Shockey (groin) and running back Pierre Thomas (ankle) also are sitting out.

The rest of the inactives for the Saints are safety Usama Young, linebacker Anthony Waters, defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, tight end David Thomas and linebacker Kawika Mitchell.

Chris Ivory inactive for Saints

December, 27, 2010
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ATLANTA -- Running back Chris Ivory will miss tonight’s game with Atlanta due to a hamstring injury.

Ivory highlights a list of New Orleans inactives that also includes receiver Courtney Roby, safety Usama Young, linebacker Danny Clark, offensive tackle Charles Brown, tight end David Thomas, defensive end Junior Galette and Kawika Mitchell.

Injuries shape Saints' game-day roster

December, 19, 2010
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BALTIMORE -- As we previously reported, New Orleans running back Chris Ivory will be inactive due to a hamstring injury. But Ivory isn’t the only name of note on the list of inactives.

Return man Courtney Roby and defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove are injury-related inactives. It’s likely the Saints will use either Pierre Thomas or Lance Moore or a combination of the two to handle kickoff returns. Roby suffered head and neck injuries on a return last week.

Cornerback Patrick Robinson, the team’s first-round draft pick this year, also is inactive, but that’s not related to injuries. Robinson also was a healthy inactive last week and the Saints are just bringing him along slowly at a position where they are well stocked.

Safety Usama Young, linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, tackle Charles Brown and tight end David Thomas are also inactive.

Patrick Robinson inactive for Saints

December, 12, 2010
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NEW ORLEANS -- Couple of interesting names on the list of inactives for the Saints. Before we get to that, though, running back Pierre Thomas is active for the first time since suffering an ankle injury in September.

The biggest surprise among the inactives is rookie cornerback Patrick Robinson. The Saints’ first-round draft pick, Robinson has spent most of the season as a backup, but did get some starts when Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter were hurt early in the year. Robinson hasn’t been much of a factor recently. Safety Usama Young also is a bit of a surprise on the inactive list. Young usually plays on special teams and he wasn’t on the injury report this week.

The other inactives for the Saints are: running back Julius Jones, linebacker Ramon Humber, offensive tackle Charles Brown, tight end Tory Humphrey, defensive end Junior Galette and linebacker Kawika Mitchell.

Saints still banged up

November, 23, 2010
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Since they play Thursday at Dallas, the New Orleans Saints had to release an injury report Tuesday and it’s a pretty full one.

Running back Reggie Bush, who is trying to come back from a broken leg, participated on a limited basis. Coach Sean Payton said Bush got plenty of work, but wasn’t ready to say if Bush will play against the Cowboys.

Defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, tight end Jeremy Shockey, safety Roman Harper, center Jonathan Goodwin, defensive back Malcolm Jenkins and safeties Darren Sharper and Usama Young participated on a limited basis.

How I See It: NFC South Stock Watch

October, 6, 2010
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

[+] EnlargeSmith
AP Photo/Bill HaberSteve Smith's injury leaves the Carolina Panthers with no established big-play threats at wide receiver.
1. Cadillac Williams, running back, Tampa Bay. One thing about coach Raheem Morris that sets him apart from most other coaches is he’s not afraid to telegraph his moves. During the bye week, he made it pretty clear that the Bucs are going to cut down on Williams’ carries and try to insert LeGarrette Blount and Kareem Huggins more often.

2. Carolina’s wide receivers. With Steve Smith likely out with an ankle injury and Dwayne Jarrett released after he was charged with driving while impaired, the Panthers are down to rookie receivers Brandon LaFell, David Gettis and Armanti Edwards. They also claimed David Clowney off waivers Tuesday. Edwards has yet to be active on game day. Rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen doesn’t exactly have a stellar cast to throw to.

3. New Orleans’ offensive line. It’s not what it was a year ago. That’s a little disappointing because the line returned intact, but it hasn’t been dominant. Drew Brees is getting pressured more than usual, the running game’s been only ordinary and All-Pro guard Jahri Evans has developed a sudden knack for getting called for holding penalties.

RISING

1. Curtis Lofton, linebacker, Falcons. He’s been a pretty good middle linebacker in his first two seasons. But the knock on Lofton was that he didn’t make big plays, and he talked this summer about how he wanted to change that. It’s happening. In Sunday’s victory against San Francisco, Lofton had nine tackles, a sack and an interception. A few more big plays and Lofton could be a strong candidate for the Pro Bowl.

2. Roddy White, receiver, Falcons. It’s hard to put White’s stock much higher than it already was. We declared him the best receiver in the NFC South last week. But White went out and took his game to a higher level Sunday. He made one of the most incredible plays of his career and it didn’t even involve him catching the ball. After Nate Clements had a late interception, White ran him down from behind and popped the ball loose to cause a fumble that the Falcons recovered. Atlanta then went on a drive and kicked the game-winning field goal.

3. Usama Young, safety, Saints. He’s usually just a special-teams player. But a series of injuries forced him into the strong safety spot in Sunday’s victory against Carolina. With the Panthers close to the range where they could kick a game-winning field goal, Young stepped up and had a tackle where he dropped DeAngelo Williams for a four-yard loss. That and a sack by free safety Malcolm Jenkins on the next play took the Panthers definitively out of field-goal range.
An already-thin New Orleans secondary has taken another hit.

Porter
Porter
Mike Triplett reports that starting cornerback Tracy Porter has a knee sprain that will sideline him two to four weeks. Porter suffered the injury in Sunday’s 16-14 victory.

The Saints have some quality depth at cornerback and veteran Randall Gay likely will move into Porter’s spot opposite Jabari Greer. Rookie Patrick Robinson might step into Greer’s role as the nickel back.

The Saints already had issues at safety. Usual starter Roman Harper missed Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury. Coach Sean Payton expressed hope that Porter will return this week, but the depth behind him is questionable.

Pierson Prioleau got the start against the Panthers, but had to leave after suffering a bruised chest. Chris Reis replaced Prioleau, but promptly suffered a shoulder injury. Payton already has said Reis has been ruled out for this week. Triplett just reported that Reis will have to have surgery and will miss the rest of the season.

The Saints finished the game with Usama Young playing opposite starting free safety Malcolm Jenkins. Payton said the Saints would have had to move Gay to safety if there had been any more injuries.

The Saints are expected to work out several free-agent safeties Tuesday. Veteran safety Darren Sharper has to remain on the physically-unable-to-perform list for at least another two weeks.

Late-game mettle serves Saints well

October, 3, 2010
10/03/10
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Lance MooreChris Graythen/Getty ImagesLance Moore and the Saints made the plays they needed to late in the game.
NEW ORLEANS -- The question was about one specific play and one specific drive in Sunday’s game between the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers. The answer Lance Moore gave addressed the question, then went way beyond it.

“We’ve been there before,’’ the New Orleans receiver said. “We’ve had those kinds of drives before.’’

Maybe Moore was only talking about the final drive the Saints went on to set up a John Carney field goal for a 16-14 victory Sunday at the Superdome. But you could take Moore’s words and make them the story for the Saints so far this season. And last season.

For the first time in franchise history, you truly can say the Saints have been there before, and now they’re acting like it. That’s the beauty of a team that has tan lines on its fingers when the Super Bowl rings come off on Sundays.

Even when they’re playing a lousy game against a lousy team, the Saints still can turn on the look of a winner when they need to. That’s what the Saints did for the final 13 minutes and 20 seconds against the Panthers.

First, the offense went on an 18-play, 86-yard drive to set up a 25-yard field goal by Carney that put the Saints ahead with 3:55 remaining. Then the defense, led by big plays from safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Usama Young, shut down the Carolina offense.

Is it something to celebrate when you beat a winless team that is starting a rookie quarterback (Jimmy Clausen) and has its best player (Steve Smith) sitting in the locker room with an air cast on his ankle in the final minutes of the game?

“To me, if we’re 3-1 and not playing our best football, we’re in a good spot,’’ said defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, who played perhaps the best game of his career while recording a sack, a tackle for a loss, a quarterback hurry and knocking down two of Clausen’s passes at the line.

Ellis might be the only member of the Saints playing his best these days. Before the ugly win against the Panthers, the Saints had lost to the Falcons and preceded that with ugly wins against San Francisco and Minnesota.

The offense that was best in the league last year has looked ordinary. The defense, which was a turnover and scoring machine for much of last season, hasn’t been nearly as opportunistic. The Saints even lost the turnover battle (two to one) Sunday, but all that really matters is they won.

They’re 3-1 and so are the Atlanta Falcons. At 2-1 and with a bye this week, Tampa Bay is still in the NFC South race. Carolina is not. At 0-4, the Panthers have reached the point of no return with John Fox as a lame-duck coach and the possibility of having to play a few weeks without Smith.

No, New Orleans hasn’t been great in its first four games, but the Saints are far from being Carolina. Four games into a season, that’s good enough for the Saints. There is still plenty of time to be great.

“Although it wasn’t always perfect, it was a good win,’’ New Orleans coach Sean Payton said. “We are just trying to win each week. If you look back on the back end of last season, you will see a lot of hard-fought games also.’’

Don’t underestimate the importance of winning those games last season as it relates to the present. The Saints know how to win.

They did it without their top two running backs (Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas were sidelined with injuries) and starting strong safety Roman Harper, who also sat out with an injury. Harper’s replacement, Pierson Prioleau, had to leave the game with an injury and his replacement, Chris Reis, also had to leave after getting hurt.

[+] EnlargeJohn Carney
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesClutch field goals from John Carney proved vital for the Saints.
That left Young, who usually is limited to special teams, and Jenkins, who is in his first year as a starting free safety, as the only two healthy safeties. Whenever there are injuries in the NFL, every coach likes to talk about how the next man has to step up and make plays.

That’s what Young and Jenkins did as Clausen tried to move the Panthers into the range where a John Kasay field goal could win it for Carolina. With the ball at the New Orleans 36-yard line, Young came up to tackle running back DeAngelo Williams for a four-yard loss. The Saints blitzed Jenkins on the next play and he sacked Clausen for a four-yard loss. That left the ball at the 44-yard line, out of Kasay’s range, and created the exact kind of last-gasp play every defense dreams of.

Yep, the Panthers had Clausen throwing for Dwayne Jarrett, who hasn’t made a play that matters in his four-year career. That’s about as pure as desperation can get. Jabari Greer just knocked the ball away from Jarrett to end any chance Carolina had.

No, the Saints aren’t great right now. But they’re good enough.

“We definitely still have a killer instinct,’’ quarterback Drew Brees said. “We’re just making stupid mistakes. We’re getting that stuff corrected, slowly but surely. Obviously, you look at us and I can speak for the offense, we haven’t scored like we’re used to scoring and we’re 3-1 and a field goal away from being 4-0. That’s a good thing.’’

It definitely beats the alternative, but the real benefit of the fact the Saints have been here before is they know the way they’re playing isn’t good enough to take them deep into the postseason.

“We left some points on the field,’’ Moore said. “We have to make sure that stops. If a team makes one more play, we lose.’’

The Panthers didn’t make that play. Other teams ahead on the schedule might be capable of making those plays and that’s why the Saints have to get better. Maybe getting some injured players back will help, and there is time for Payton to start coming up with some new magic for an offense that has been way too quiet and time for defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to get his guys generating turnovers again.

“If there’s one thing about this team, it’s that we’re battle-tested,’’ Brees said. “We know how to win tight games.’’

That’s because the Saints have been there plenty of times before.
NEW ORLEANS -- I’m heading down to the locker rooms for interviews with the Panthers and Saints. I’ll be back with more postgame analysis in a bit. But in the meantime, here’s Rapid Reaction on the Saints' 16-14 victory.

What it means: A win is a win. But all three of New Orleans’ victories have been ugly. This team has some issues and injuries. You can survive that against the Panthers, but there are some tough games coming up later in the season and the Saints can’t win some of those unless they start playing a lot better. Despite playing better than they have all season, it’s over for the Panthers. They’re 0-4 and John Fox is a lame-duck coach. Injuries to receiver Steve Smith and defensive tackle Ed Johnson looked significant enough that Carolina could face a couple of games without those two players. The effort was there Sunday, but that’s tough to continue when you’re in a downhill spiral.

Hero: John Carney. The 46-year-old kicker was signed this week after Garrett Hartley missed a field goal in overtime last week. Carney connected on all three of his attempts, including the game winner.

Injuries of note: Carolina wide receiver Smith left the game with an ankle injury late in the third quarter. The Panthers went with rookies Brandon LaFell and David Gettis the rest of the game. New Orleans opened the game without starting strong safety Roman Harper, who was injured last week. Pierson Prioleau started in Harper’s place, but was injured in the first half. Chris Reis took Harper’s place, but suffered a shoulder injury. The Saints had to finish the game with Usama Young, their only remaining safety.

What’s next: The Saints will be on the road the next two games. First, they travel to Arizona. Then, on Oct. 17, they go to Tampa Bay. The Panthers host Chicago in a game that has a big subplot as Bears defensive end Julius Peppers returns to play against his former team for the first time. The Panthers have their bye the following week.

Saints suddenly thin at safety

October, 3, 2010
10/03/10
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NEW ORLEANS – The New Orleans Saints just suffered what could be a big blow.

Pierson Prioleau, who was starting in place of the injured Roman Harper at strong safety, just went down with an injury and left the field. We don’t know exactly what the injury is yet or whether there’s any chance of Prioleau returning.

But the Saints suddenly are very thin at safety. They’ve put Chris Reis, who generally plays only on special teams, in at strong safety. Malcolm Jenkins is the free safety and Usama Young is the only other healthy safety who is active today.

Moments after Prioleau left the game, Carolina tied the game, 7-7, on a long pass from Jimmy Clausen to Jonathan Stewart. Not sure exactly what happened, but Stewart was wide open in an area where there should have been some safety help.
NEW ORLEANS – With running back Reggie Bush out with a broken leg for about six weeks, the Saints apparently will continue to use a committee approach at running back.

Chris Ivory, who missed the first two games with an injury, is active today. So is recently signed Ladell Betts. They likely will share carries with starter Pierre Thomas.

Rookie cornerback Patrick Robinson also is active today after being inactive Monday night. Robinson could get some time in the nickel and dime packages with Randall Gay out with a concussion.

Along with Gay and Bush, the rest of New Orleans’ inactive list includes safety Usama Young, linebacker Anthony Waters, offensive lineman Charles Brown, tight end Tory Humphrey, receiver Adrian Arrington and defensive end Junior Galette.

Camp Confidential: Saints

July, 31, 2010
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ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 2

METAIRIE, La. -- As the New Orleans Saints finished their first camp practice Friday morning, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, a man known for holding back nothing on or off the field, unloaded. He wanted to get something off his chest. Heck, out of his body, out of his mouth and out into the open.

Without ever really being asked anything that would prompt the issue, Williams started talking about why the Saints can repeat as Super Bowl champions. He’s tired of hearing the reasons they can’t and the repeated reminders that the follow-up season hasn’t been good to many Super Bowl teams in recent history.

“I keep on hearing you guys talk about this Super Bowl hangover and it’s starting to chafe me a little bit,’’ Williams said. “It really is and I’m being real honest. The reason being is, if you could see behind the scenes of our offseason program from April 19 and to see every single practice we’ve had, I don’t have any qualms about the way our defense is because all they did was show up with more hunger, more fire, wanted me to be a bigger jerk and get on their (butt) more. They begged for me to get on their (butt) more. So far, I’ve seen nothing that would indicate that we can’t make another run at this.’’

Williams may be one of the organization’s more vocal figures, but you quickly get the feeling he’s not alone on this idea. Sure, the Saints spent a good portion of the offseason celebrating the first Super Bowl title in franchise history. Sure, recent history is stacked against them. No team has repeated since the 2004 Patriots.

Confidence -- some even have suggested arrogance -- was a big part of the reason the Saints won the Super Bowl last season. That hasn’t changed. Unlike a lot of recent Super Bowl teams, the Saints really didn’t lose much in free agency and they didn’t have their coaching staff picked apart. There really hasn’t been much turnover of faces or attitude.

“There was a really good locker room here before I got here,’’ Williams said. “There’s a better locker room now. The guys that we brought in this year, they fit into that locker room because Jon Vilma and Drew Brees aren’t going to let the wrong kind of people be in that locker room. They’re just not going to do that.’’

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeJabari Greer
Doug Benc/Getty ImagesA healthy Jabari Greer could help the defense be more consistent.
1. Can a defense that was opportunistic but far from dominant become more consistent? Sure, there is some bravado that comes with Williams. That’s part of his nature and it’s part of what makes him a good coach. But what he’s saying isn’t just bluster.

The Saints really should be much better on defense this season. All they really lost was linebacker Scott Fujita and defensive end Charles Grant. They showed Grant the door and probably upgraded the position by signing veterans Alex Brown and Jimmy Wilkerson. They’ll line up on the other side from Will Smith. Brown and Wilkerson aren’t dominant pass-rushers, but they’re consistent in that area and play the run very well. Fujita was a key contributor, but the Saints believe they have a group of promising linebackers (Troy Evans, Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Stanley Arnoux) and believe one of them will rise up.

Plug in a healthy Sedrick Ellis in the middle of the defensive line and the Saints should have a solid front seven. But the defensive backfield is where the Saints really could be outstanding. They’ve assembled one of the best collections of secondary talent in the league. Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter might be the best cornerbacks no one outside of New Orleans has heard of. When healthy, they both can be shut-down guys. Both were banged up last season, and that’s one of the reasons the Saints drafted cornerback Patrick Robinson. That move also has allowed them to move last year’s first-round pick, Malcolm Jenkins, to free safety, where he might get the chance to beat out Darren Sharper. If you can put Sharper, a possible future Hall of Famer on the bench, that’s a pretty big statement. People talk about New Orleans’ offense being explosive, but the defense has a chance to be every bit as dynamic.

2. Can the offense live up to last year’s standards? Brees remains the quarterback and, as long as that’s the case, this offense is going to be great. Brees clearly is in his prime and his pairing with head coach/offensive genius Sean Payton makes magic possible on every play.

This is an offense that can hit you from every angle -- Brees throwing short or long, Pierre Thomas running inside and Reggie Bush outside and an offensive line filled with Pro Bowlers. Keep in mind that the Saints had some injuries at the skill positions last year, but they still were phenomenal on offense. If they can keep Bush, Thomas, Marques Colston, Heath Evans and Jeremy Shockey healthy, last year’s production could be eclipsed.

[+] EnlargeJahri Evans
Larry French/Getty ImagesJahri Evans is part of a dominant offensive line that makes up for any weakness at left tackle.
3. Is left tackle really that important? The Saints used to have a Pro Bowl left tackle. His name was Jammal Brown and they traded him to Washington in the offseason. That happened after Brown missed all last season with an injury and the Saints got by with Jermon Bushrod quite nicely.

The Saints aren’t touting Bushrod as a franchise left tackle, although he’s the favorite to be the starter. They also drafted Charles Brown, and Zach Strief, who filled in when Bushrod slumped a bit last season, also is in the mix. The Saints gave Bushrod plenty of help last season and they’re prepared to do it again for him -- or for Brown or Streif. But the lesson that came out of last year is, in this offense, it’s not a necessity to have a dominant left tackle.

But that’s partly because the Saints have the league’s best guard tandem (Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks), a Pro Bowl right tackle (Jonathan Stinchcomb) and an excellent center (Jonathan Goodwin). Throw anyone out there at left tackle and the rest of the line and Brees will make him look good.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Jimmy Graham. The Saints took what seemed like a bit of a leap when they drafted the tight end in the third round. He played basketball at the University of Miami before deciding to switch to football in his final year. The conventional wisdom was that Graham would be a bit of a project and would take a year or two to really have an impact. But there already is a buzz among the coaching staff and other offensive players about Graham. Everyone knew he had great athletic ability coming in, but he’s picked up things faster than anyone expected and he got some first-team work with Brees in June workouts. He might play a bigger role faster than anyone expected.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Clint Ingram. When the Saints signed Ingram, a lot of fans instantly thought he would be the automatic replacement for Fujita. Ingram had been a starter in Jacksonville, so the logic was solid. But Ingram was injured when the Saints signed him and he still hasn’t been on the practice field, except while riding a stationary bike. That has allowed Troy Evans, Dunbar and Arnoux time to make a good impression. Unless Ingram gets healthy very soon and makes a huge impression on the field, he might not even get a roster spot.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Darren Sharper
    James Lang/US PresswireDarren Sharper wore down toward the end of last season and had offseason microfracture surgery.
    I know this might sound like blasphemy to Saints fans because Sharper is very popular and had a huge impact last year. But the fact is he’s 34 and coming off micro-fracture knee surgery. I’ve suggested before I think there’s a good chance Jenkins takes his place in the starting lineup. But I’ll take it one step further here and say -- I’m not promising this will happen -- I can see a scenario where Sharper doesn’t even stay on the active roster. The Saints are high on Jenkins. They also like Usama Young and are hopeful about Chip Vaughn, who missed his rookie year with an injury. Ideally, the Saints would like to keep Sharper around for his leadership. But if his knee doesn’t come along, he could spend part of the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list, the injured-reserve list or maybe even be released or retired. Even with all his credentials, Sharper can’t contribute if his knee isn’t right. The Saints have a lot of other safeties with young legs.
  • The Saints used a three-headed backfield with Bush, Thomas and Mike Bell last season. Bell is gone, but the playing time division should be pretty similar this year. Just plug Lynell Hamilton into Bell’s place. The Saints wouldn’t have let Bell go if they didn’t think Hamilton was ready. I don’t want to tease you and say this is the year Bush shows he can run between the tackles. But remember how well he ran in the playoffs and how he was more physical than at any time in his career? That was because he was completely healthy. That seems to still be the case, so don’t be surprised if you see Bush’s numbers go up a bit. This guy can do a little bit of everything.
  • Shockey’s always been an easy target and there’s no doubt he’s brought some of that on himself. But he appears to be in very good physical shape. Shockey hasn’t really been a distraction in New Orleans like many thought he was when he was with the Giants. He’s just been banged up for much of his time with the Saints. Maybe –- and I’m just saying maybe -- Shockey might have matured and might be taking better care of himself in an effort to stay on the field.
  • It really didn’t get much attention, but the best move the Saints made in the offseason might have been signing Patrick Ramsey to serve as Brees’ backup. Veteran Mark Brunell was a good fit in that role for a couple of years, but the Saints needed to get a little younger. The Saints hope and pray nothing ever happens to Brees. But, if he were to miss some time, the New Orleans offense might not suddenly fall apart. Ramsey’s a guy who has bounced around the league. He got messed up by Steve Spurrier early in his career in Washington, but he still has some talent. This is a quarterback-friendly offense with all sorts of weapons and Ramsey could win games for the Saints -- if that ever becomes necessary.
  • For a couple years, special teams were a bit of a question. That has changed. Kicker Garrett Hartley and punter Thomas Morstead were heroes in the Super Bowl. They’re still young and should only continue to get better.
  • It’s very early in camp, but one player who has intrigued the coaching staff is defensive end Junior Galette. He’s an undrafted rookie and very undersized at 258 pounds. But this guy is showing great speed and there’s a chance he could land a job as a pass-rush specialist. Yeah, Bobby McCray also is supposed to fit that description. But McCray had 1.5 sacks last season and actually was cut because of a high salary before he basically begged his way back (at a reduced salary). If the Saints cut McCray once, there’s no reason why they couldn’t do it again.

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