METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints will be hitting the field for their first practice of training camp late Thursday afternoon.
I’ll be out there gathering information for my Camp Confidential profile on the Saints, which is scheduled to run Monday, as well as stuff for our season preview that will be running late in the preseason. I’ll also be providing some live updates after practice and interviews.
This will be one of the more unique seasons in NFL history, because coach Sean Payton is suspended for the season and other members of the organization will serve suspensions at various times. So let’s run through a quick preview of some of the things I’ll be watching.
The chemistry of the coaches: Assistant head coach Joe Vitt has been running things during the offseason, and will continue to do so during training camp. But Vitt will have to serve his suspension during the first six games of the regular season. It has been reported that offensive line coach Aaron Kromer will take over for Vitt, but the team hasn’t made any official announcement. Putting Kromer in the top spot makes sense, because it allows coordinators Steve Spagnuolo and Pete Carmichael to focus on the defense and the offense. Vitt has been Payton’s right-hand man since their arrival in New Orleans in 2006, so training camp is likely to look like business as usual for the players. But it’s going to be different for the coaches. After a bizarre offseason, the coaches have to use training camp to prepare for what will be a major change at the start of camp.
Running back Mark Ingram: He didn’t have a huge impact as a rookie because of injuries and a steady rotation in the backfield. But Ingram was a first-round pick, and the expectations are high. We’ll first find out if he’s healthy. If he is, then we’ll start to see how he will fit into a backfield that’s crowded with Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory.
Junior Galette: New Orleans fans have had a fascination with this guy since he arrived in 2010. It’s understandable, because the defensive end has a unique combination of size and speed, and has shown flashes of promise in the past two training camps. That didn’t translate into much in Galette’s rookie season, but there were some signs last season, that he could be an impact player. Galette produced 4.5 sacks as a part-time player. With Will Smith expected to serve a four-game suspension at the start of the season, the Saints are looking for a pass-rusher. Galette and second-year pro Martez Wilson, who is making the transition from linebacker to defensive end, have the most upside of the younger players in camp. If they continue to develop, they could take on major roles in the regular season.
The young cornerbacks: Patrick Robinson and Johnny Patrick are a lot like Galette and Wilson. They’re young, have a lot of potential, and likely will get a lot more playing time than they have in the past. With Tracy Porter departing as a free agent, the Saints are expecting Robinson to step into the starting role opposite Jabari Greer, and Patrick to become the nickel back. This is all part of a master plan. The Saints were preparing for Porter’s departure when they drafted Robinson and Patrick.
The changes at linebacker: No position received more attention in the offseason. Knowing Jonathan Vilma could face suspension, and realizing that the linebacker play wasn’t great last season, the Saints added Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne and Chris Chamberlain as free agents. They still have veterans like Scott Shanle, Will Herring and Jonathan Casillas. Other than Lofton in the middle, no one is guaranteed a starting job. The Saints are going to throw all the other linebackers out there in camp, let them compete and see who steps up to earn starting jobs.