NFL Nation: Khiry Robinson

METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton confirmed Wednesday that running back Mark Ingram won’t play Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings after having surgery to repair a displaced fracture above his thumb.

Payton, however, said he’s optimistic Ingram won’t be out for long and called it a “week to week” situation.

[+] EnlargeMark Ingram
AP Photo/Tony DejakThe Saints' Mark Ingram shined last Sunday despite suffering a serious thumb injury in the first quarter.
“The procedure went well. It’s just a matter of the swelling, the wound and the bone healing,” said Payton, explaining that Ingram couldn’t just play with a cast because the fracture was displaced. He said Ingram had two screws placed right above his thumb.

The injury occurred during the first quarter of Sunday’s 26-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns. It was unclear if Ingram was injured when cornerback Joe Haden’s helmet hit his left hand during a tackle, or if it occurred as Ingram braced himself with the hand on the ground. Either way, Ingram popped right back up, briefly pulled his hand inward and jogged back into the huddle.

Ingram had the hand taped on the sideline soon after but played the remainder of the game, thriving with a total of 104 yards from scrimmage. Fellow running back Pierre Thomas called him “a warrior.”

“It’s obviously impressive that he played that long with it,” Payton said. “You could see on film that his exchanges were a little different and how he was taking the ball. But he’s a tough player.”

As for how the Saints will fare without Ingram, players and coaches expressed confidence even though Ingram was playing the best football of his career.

Payton, Thomas and quarterback Drew Brees said they all expect fellow running backs like Thomas, Khiry Robinson and Travaris Cadet to step up.

"It's nothing new. We've all been through it,” Thomas said. “You always expect something like this is going to happen, and we'll be ready for it. We're going to make sure we know what to do. We're going to make sure we didn't lose a beat. We lost a good running back, but he's going to get better and get back quick.”

Payton agreed that Ingram has been especially “sharp” this season while running for a total of 143 yards, three touchdowns and 6.0 yards per carry. But he said the Saints have always preached the importance of depth.

Robinson has run for 59 yards and a touchdown this year on 14 carries (4.2 yard average). Thomas has run for 47 yards on 10 carries (4.7 average) and has nine receptions for 74 yards.

“Khiry’s a guy, shoot, he’s another back we feel like is young [but] is someone that’ll be ready for the workload,” said Payton, who proved his faith in Robinson by increasing his workload during the Saints’ playoff run last year, even though he was an inexperienced undrafted rookie.

And Brees said he is “very confident” that Robinson can handle things like pass protection as he has continued to develop in his second year.

“From the first time he stepped foot in our building until now, he’s light years in improvement in every facet of the game,” Brees said, “but I’d say especially in nickel, where you’re required to be a little more headsy in regards to protection and getting out and running outside of the backfield.”

Other injuries: Linebacker David Hawthorne (ankle) and center Jonathan Goodwin (elbow) were also new additions to the Saints' injury report this week. Neither player participated in team drills Wednesday. The severity of the injuries is unknown. Hawthorne left last Sunday's game early with the injury, while Goodwin played the entire time.

Linebacker Curtis Lofton was limited with a shoulder injury (which also limited him in practice last week). Safety Marcus Ball (hamstring) and fullback Erik Lorig (ankle) remained out with lingering injuries.
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METAIRIE, La. -- Two thoughts immediately spring to mind following the news that New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram will be out for at least a month with a broken hand:

The negative: Geez, it sure feels like the Saints are in "anything that can go wrong" mode right now. They're 0-2, and they just lost arguably their most consistent player from the first two weeks.

The positive: If any team is equipped to handle such a loss, it's the Saints. They have great depth with both Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson available. Both guys are more than capable of filling the void. And because the Saints were in a running back timeshare anyway, Ingram was averaging only 14 touches per game.

Ingram
It seems like a huge disservice to Ingram, however, to suggest the Saints will be OK without him.

After three turbulent years filled with injuries and inconsistency, things were finally coming together for the former Heisman Trophy winner and first-round pick this season.

Not only was Ingram healthy and running great -- did you see some of those cuts he made Sunday at Cleveland? -- he was finally playing the versatile role he has yearned for.

Since the Saints traded Darren Sproles in the offseason, Ingram was freed up to play in more versatile packages instead of the base and short-yardage packages to which he was mostly relegated in years past. Both of Ingram's touchdown runs at Atlanta in Week 1 came out of a shotgun formation with four receivers and tight ends split wide.

Ideally, the Saints will have similar success with Thomas and Robinson, both of whom also have played very well in less predictable roles this season.

The Saints' entire run game has been thriving since late last season, when Ingram and Robinson had breakout performances in the playoffs. And coach Sean Payton has shown faith in the run game during the first two weeks. So there's no reason to expect a significant drop-off now.

But hopefully for Ingram, the broken hand doesn't set him back much.

He has been passionate about finally breaking through over the past two seasons. His emotional, competitive nature was on display last year on the field against the Dallas Cowboys and last week on the sideline against the Atlanta Falcons.

And on top of everything else, this is a contract year for Ingram, who's hoping to prove to the Saints and any other prospective employers that he's capable of carrying the load for a team.

RBs less predictable, more successful

September, 10, 2014
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METAIRIE, La. -- Both of Mark Ingram's touchdown runs Sunday for the New Orleans Saints came when he was the only back in a shotgun formation, with four receivers/tight ends split wide.

That's a new wrinkle for Ingram, who was often pigeonholed in power running formations in years past. Ingram has made no secret about how he wants to be used more as a versatile, every-down back. And he's been showing why.

[+] EnlargeMark Ingram
AP Photo/David GoldmanMark Ingram, like his fellow Saints running backs, did well in unaccustomed roles against the Falcons.
It started last year when Ingram had an outstanding playoff performance when Pierre Thomas was injured. It has continued this summer after the Saints traded away runner/receiver Darren Sproles.

Ingram had 13 carries for 60 yards in Sunday's 37-34 overtime loss at the Atlanta Falcons, including the pair of 3-yard TD runs in the fourth quarter. Ingram also caught one pass for 1 yard -- another area where his role is expected to expand this season.

However, none of that means that Ingram will emerge as the No. 1 back for the Saints. As expected, the Saints split the workload pretty evenly between Ingram, Thomas and Khiry Robinson in Week 1.

As hoped, all three thrived in less-predictable roles.

Thomas was exceptional as both a runner (seven carries for 31 yards) and receiver (six receptions for 58 yards). On four different occasions, Thomas made a defender miss in the open field to allow him to convert a first down – twice on third-down plays.

Thomas is expected to take over most of Sproles' old nickelback role on third downs. But he wasn't used exclusively in that role Sunday, as he played by far the most snaps of any running back.

Thomas was in for 34 snaps, Ingram 20 and Robinson 12. Travaris Cadet also played 12 snaps, including his only reception for 5 yards on the first play of the game.

Robinson carried the ball six times for 28 yards, including the first touchdown run of 2 yards. It's worth noting that Robinson was the runner both times the Saints were in their goal-line package (he lost 2 yards on the other run). That may continue going forward, though it's obviously not guaranteed.

The Saints' running back timeshare will probably remain as frustrating as ever to fantasy owners. But the good news is that all three backs should be able to sustain this kind of success in small doses this year -- especially if New Orleans' offensive line keeps playing as well as it did Sunday.

No Drew Brees? No problem.

The New Orleans Saints found plenty of offensive firepower Friday in their 26-24 victory over the St. Louis Rams -- most of it provided by running back Mark Ingram and receiver Brandin Cooks.

It wasn't a perfect night by any stretch. Both first-string units had a few hiccups. But the Saints will feel especially good about the way they ran the ball, even without Brees and guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs in the lineup.

Here are some other thoughts on the Saints' first preseason game of the year:
  • I couldn't help but think of the way Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief compared the speed of these playmakers Ingram and Cooks the other day. Strief said Ingram has the kind of speed where you know he's running hard, like a freight train once he gets going. Meanwhile, Cooks has smooth, natural speed that barely looks like it requires any effort.

    Well, both methods made the Rams defense miss Friday night. Ingram broke several tackles en route to 83 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. And Cooks torched a pair of defensive backs with a nasty cut in the open field on a 25-yard touchdown. Cooks finished with five catches for 55 yards.

    Fellow Saints running back Khiry Robinson also ran well, with five carries for 23 yards and a touchdown. Among the guys who provided standout blocks were linemen Tim Lelito, Jonathan Goodwin, Senio Kelemete, Jason Weaver, Thomas Welch and tight end Benjamin Watson.
  • Ryan Griffin won the first round of the backup-QB battle by a landslide. Veteran Luke McCown started the game and did OK, but his night was marred by an ill-advised interception into the arms of blitzing defensive end Chris Long.

    Griffin, meanwhile, continued to show the poise and maturity he's been displaying all summer while completing 16 of 23 passes for 179 yards, a touchdown and no picks. Although Cooks got deserved credit for that touchdown catch, Griffin deserves just as much for absorbing a huge hit as he threw the ball under pressure.
  • Thumbs up: Backup defensive end Tyrunn Walker was outstanding with one sack and at least three other tackles for loss. At one point he made back-to-back run stuffs on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1. ... Glenn Foster, Brodrick Bunkley, Akiem Hicks, Ramon Humber, Rufus Johnson Jr. and rookie linebackers Ronald Powell and Khairi Fortt all stood out for at least one sack or tackle for loss. ... Don't sleep on linebacker Kyle Knox as a roster hopeful. He started on all four special teams, along with tight end Josh Hill and linebacker Kevin Reddick. ... Hill had a big night on offense, too, doing his best Jimmy Graham impression with two catches for 67 yards.
  • Thumbs down: Kicker Shayne Graham isn't a fan of the NFL's 33-yard extra point experiment. He missed one, bouncing it off the left upright. Both Graham and Derek Dimke made matching 37-yard field goals, though. ... Rookie cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste got burned for a 24-yard touchdown pass. He's better in bump-and-run, but he never jammed the receiver and never turned to locate the ball. ... The entire Saints defense got burned on a 16-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter when no one covered tight end Cory Harkey. ... Cornerbacks Rod Sweeting and Brian Dixon also got beat for big plays in the fourth quarter. ... Rookie receiver Brandon Coleman dropped two passes, one of which was intercepted. ... The Saints' third-string offensive line struggled, especially rookie tackle Tavon Rooks.

Saints Camp Report: Day 4

July, 28, 2014
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WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. – A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New Orleans Saints training camp:


  • Cornerback Keenan Lewis created his own no-fly zone during one set of team drills Monday, rejecting passes intended for Marques Colston, Andy Tanner and Joe Morgan (the last two on back-to-back plays). As I've written many times, Lewis should have been a Pro Bowler last year and was as important as anyone to the Saints’ defensive revival. So far, he looks primed for a repeat. … Overall, it was a good day for the secondary, with Pierre Warren diving for an interception and Kenny Vaccaro and Patrick Robinson also providing highlights.
  • The offensive highlight was a long run by tailback Khiry Robinson that included a sweet cutback – a play that coach Sean Payton later singled out. But just as impressive for Robinson was a terrific blitz pickup when he had to absorb a big impact from Vaccaro. Robinson said that’s one element of his game he’s really trying to improve in his second NFL season, which he called “night and day” compared to his rookie year out of West Texas A&M. … Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief said as Robinson continues to add knowledge and confidence to his impressive ability, “You are kind of unleashing a lot of potential there.”
  • It was another physical practice in full pads Monday. The offensive line definitely got the better of the defense in early 9-on-7 run drills, though Strief admitted they’re at an advantage when the defense doesn’t have any safeties to help fill gaps. “There is good competition there. I tried to give (defensive end Akiem) Hicks a high-five after the period, and he told me no. There is definitely competitiveness, and that is part of training camp.” … Strief had another strong performance in one-on-one pass-rush drills. Others who stood out in that drill included center Jonathan Goodwin, defensive end Glenn Foster and outside linebacker Keyunta Dawson.
  • The Saints turned up the volume on Monday’s practice, blasting some music through the stretching period and a few drills – something they started doing before the playoffs last year when they mixed up the daily routine (along with the new Gatorade flavors and sweatsuits). It wasn’t just for entertainment purposes. Payton said it also helps players learn to focus through the noise.
  • Guard Ben Grubbs (undisclosed injury) and receiver Robert Meachem (back) remained sidelined Monday. Payton said both should be back within a day or so but declined to offer any specifics on the injuries. Safety Jairus Byrd, defensive tackle John Jenkins, receiver Kenny Stills and offensive tackle Tavon Rooks also remained sidelined.
The New Orleans Saints will kick off their three-day rookie minicamp today. The media will only have access to one portion of practice on Saturday, followed by interviews with the newcomers.

Robinson
Robinson
We already know about the Saints’ six draft picks and 18 undrafted rookies that will be in attendance. But this is also the weekend for some long shots who are invited on a three-day tryout basis.

As Saints coach Sean Payton reminded the media last weekend, those tryout players can look to New Orleans running back Khiry Robinson for inspiration.

“Khiry [was] one of them a year ago,” Payton said after the Saints wrapped up their draft last Saturday afternoon. “He wasn’t on this list [of draft picks]. He wasn’t on what is going to be tomorrow’s list after the phone calls tonight. He was on the next list.

“We always try to preach to those guys that the business of acquiring the player is one thing, but once they get here we really try to go by what we see.”

Robinson, who came out of West Texas A&M, was impressive enough during that tryout to earn a spot on the 90-man roster. Then he was impressive enough during the preseason to force his way onto the Saints’ regular-season roster as their fifth tailback.

He ran for 224 yards and a touchdown during the regular season. Then he really came on strong in the playoffs, running for 102 yards and a touchdown in two postseason games while veteran Pierre Thomas was injured.

After Robinson became an unlikely hero in the Saints’ playoff win over Philadelphia – helping to run out the clock on the game-winning field goal drive – he reflected back on that first tryout weekend.

"At that point in time, it was just all about having faith," Robinson said in Philly. "So I didn't get drafted, I didn't get picked up, you know. But it all worked out for me. I just kept my head high, kept my faith and kept working hard. And I'm here today to help the team win. I'm happy for that."
Now that the NFL draft has passed, ESPN's fantasy crew will go all-in on their own pre-draft prep for 2014. The first mock draft is being compiled today, followed by the annual rankings summit.

So I reached out to ESPN fantasy analyst Matthew Berry to get his thoughts on how much buzz he expects around rookie New Orleans Saints receiver Brandin Cooks -- a big-play threat who should make an instant impact in New Orleans' explosive offense.

And Berry fired back with his most burning Saints fantasy question in this special edition of Double Coverage:

Triplett: What's your early assessment of Cooks' fantasy value? Does he have a chance to rank among the top rookies overall this year?

Berry: Here are the positives on Cooks fantasy value: He has crazy speed and lands on a team that needs it. It's also a team that threw the ball 651 times last year and just saw 143 targets walk out the door in the form of Darren Sproles and Lance Moore. Some of those will go to Kenny Stills in an increased role, but not all of them. So he should have a solid target number from a future Hall of Fame quarterback on a team that scores in bunches. All positives.

But part of the reason Drew Brees is so great is that he spreads it around. Other than Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston, no Saints pass catcher had more than four double digit fantasy points games last year. Sproles, who Cooks get compared to despite their different positions, had just three double-digit fantasy games last year. Three. On 89 targets. Obviously, many of those were dump-off passes when Sproles was in the backfield, but still. Sproles also knew the offense -- Cooks is a rookie.

Graham and Colston will take the lion's share of targets. Stills will get quite a bit more than last year's 51 targets. Pierre Thomas out of the backfield will get his. And the random work of players like Robert Meachem, Joe Morgan, Nick Toon, etc. will also eat away at potential work. Because of Cooks' speed, he will have some plays designed specifically for him, and three or four times this year he is going to have a monster game. Good luck predicting when that is, however.

I like Cooks a lot as a dynasty target. And given the recent health issues of both Graham and Colston, he's an interesting flyer this year in re-draft leagues. But, barring injury or more information on how they plan to use Cooks, he's probably not someone you're gonna feel comfortable starting week to week in ESPN standard 10- or even 12-team leagues on a weekly basis. Better move for the Saints than for his consistent fantasy purposes, at least initially.

Berry: Another big question when it comes to the Saints this year: With Sproles gone, how do you see the running back work distributed? Seems pretty clear Thomas will have a similar role, but between Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson, who gets the most work?

Triplett: I'm afraid the answer won't be any less frustrating than the shared workload you just described among the receiving group.

The guy who will get the most buzz is Robinson. He came out of nowhere as a rookie last year and turned into a monster during the playoffs (when Thomas was hurt). And Sean Payton revealed that his mentor Bill Parcells compared Robinson to Curtis Martin and insisted he needs to use him more. So Robinson will obviously be more heavily involved on a consistent basis this year. But I don't expect him to leapfrog Ingram. I think it should be a pretty even split among those two when it comes to both touches and touchdowns. Maybe 600-700 yards and 6-7 touchdowns each, depending on injury?

I'm sure fantasy folks are tired of Ingram's potential by now. But once again, he finished last season very strong when a lot of fantasy players probably weren't paying attention to him anymore. And he was the guy the Saints were riding most during the playoffs, ahead of Robinson. Ingram had a 97-yard game in the playoff win at Philadelphia.

Another subtle thing that helped both Ingram and Robinson in the playoffs was that they were used in more versatile packages with Thomas out of the lineup -- some three-receiver formations, etc. One of the biggest hurdles for Ingram early in his career was that the Saints stuck him in the jumbo package. He performed much better when they got him in open space, even throwing some screens his way. With Sproles gone, he could see more of that.

As for Thomas, he's the most reliable one of the bunch, so he'll continue to get his usual amount of touches. But I could see him getting more catches and less carries as he shifts into more of Sproles' old role on third downs (he's also a reliable pass protector). Thomas caught a career-high 77 passes for 513 yards last year. That could be closer to the norm -- maybe 500 receiving yards and 500 rushing yards?

So to make a long answer short, they will probably all bring value in deeper leagues. But it's doubtful that any of them will emerge as a No. 1 or No. 2 fantasy back.
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.
Of all the cuts the New Orleans Saints have been making this offseason, the news of Darren Sproles' pending release comes as the biggest surprise -- and could leave the biggest void.

I suppose I can get on board with the idea -- just as I saw the logic behind parting ways with Lance Moore, Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Jabari Greer and Roman Harper. Sproles is 30 years old, an age when a lot of running backs tend to begin a steep decline, and his game has always been built on dynamic speed and quickness.

Sproles
The difference with Sproles, however, is that he'll be a lot harder to replace.

Sproles was a truly unique weapon that helped make the Saints offense so special from 2011 to 2013, one of those matchup nightmares that coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees loved to exploit so much. Even when Sproles wasn't posting big numbers, he was causing fits for defenses by lining up in a variety of positions and forcing top defenders to spy on him or double-team him.

I think Sproles still would have been worth his $3.5 million price tag in a part-time role, even if the Saints had to limit him to keep him fresh.

But I also can't ignore the fact that Sproles was far more dynamic in 2011 (when he set the NFL record with 2,696 all-purpose yards) than he was in 2012 or 2013. Last season, he had just 1,273 all-purpose yards and four total touchdowns.

It remains to be seen if the Saints will still consider releasing or trading veteran running back Pierre Thomas as well. Thomas has also been a valuable triple threat throughout his career as a runner/receiver/pass-protector.

I do like the potential of the Saints' younger, cheaper running backs Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson. Both of them are capable of stepping into bigger and more versatile roles as pass-catchers and pass-protectors -- as they showed during the playoffs last season while Thomas was injured.

But if the Saints decide to release both Sproles and Thomas, they should definitely try to add another all-purpose threat, either through free agency or the draft -- to follow in the line of Sproles and Reggie Bush before him (free agent Dexter McCluster comes to mind).

So far, the Saints have been able to successfully adapt after parting ways with several longtime veterans and core players from their Super Bowl team in recent seasons. The only one who's really come back to bite them at all so far is former left tackle Jermon Bushrod, since they didn't find a consistent replacement until late last season.

But releasing Sproles might put that success rate to the test more than any previous move.
Khiry Robinson didn't just go undrafted out of West Texas A&M. The New Orleans Saints rookie running back also went unsigned that first weekend as a free agent.

He had to settle for a three-day tryout at the Saints' rookie minicamp, where he was just impressive enough to earn an invitation to training camp.

Eight months later, Robinson was helping to run out the clock in the Saints' 26-24 playoff victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. Robinson had eight carries for 45 yards against the Eagles, including three carries for 22 yards during the Saints' game-winning field goal drive.

[+] EnlargeNew Orleans' Khiry Robinson
AP Photo/Matt RourkeUndrafted rookie Khiry Robinson had eight carries for 45 yards in the wild-card win over the Eagles.
"At that point in time, it was just all about having faith," Robinson said, reflecting back on that rookie minicamp while sitting in the victorious visitors' locker room Saturday night. "So I didn't get drafted, I didn't get picked up, you know. But it all worked out for me. I just kept my head high, kept my faith and kept working hard. And I'm here today to help the team win. I'm happy for that."

Even when he started turning heads in training camp and preseason games with a combination of power and speed that reminded everyone of former Saints Cinderella story Chris Ivory, Robinson still seemed like an extreme long shot to make New Orleans' 53-man roster.

But the Saints didn't want to give up on so much potential, so they made the unusual decision to keep five running backs.

Robinson, 24, made a few impressive cameos during the regular season, appearing in 10 games to produce 224 rushing yards and a touchdown. Then he played an even bigger role in his playoff debut, since starter Pierre Thomas was out with a back injury.

Asked if he ever envisioned being in such a position, Robinson said, "No, I wasn't too sure. ... I just wait for my number to be called. I try to work hard during the week and then earn trust from the coaches. And when my number's called, I try to do something great so I can get it called again."

It's safe to say that Robinson earned another opportunity.

However, he may have to wait in line if Thomas comes back from his injury this week against the Seattle Seahawks. Thomas has been a go-to guy for the Saints all season. And running back Mark Ingram had even more of a breakout performance against the Eagles with 97 yards and a touchdown. And, oh by the way, Darren Sproles isn't too shabby as a dynamic runner-receiver.

This is an example of what NFL teams like to call "a good problem to have."

"A lot of firsts for him," Saints coach Sean Payton said when asked about Robinson's latest achievement. "I was proud of how he finished. I thought ball security was never in doubt. [That was] strong. He's powerful. For a guy that was at a tryout camp, basically, and even after having him we almost didn't bring him back to training camp, obviously he has progressed and done a great job. It was a big night for him."

The 6-foot, 220-pound Robinson ran for 2,290 yards, gained 612 receiving yards and scored 32 touchdowns in two years at West Texas A&M after transferring from Blinn Junior College in Texas. He was named to the D2Football.com All-America team after gaining a school-record 1,621 yards as a senior.

That was impressive enough to get a handful of tryout invites -- if not a firm offer. Robinson said he chose the Saints in large part because of their recent history with undrafted running backs like Ivory, Thomas and Travaris Cadet.

"I wanted to play football. I seen the best situation. And I took it and ran with it," Robinson said.

He admitted that it was "a little rough" to get used to the speed of the NFL game and the terminology of the Saints' playbook during his early summer practices. But he said he'll always remember those first rookie camp sessions. He said he thinks he impressed the Saints with his performance in the second practice in that first set of two-a-days.

"I want to say it was [make or break time]. So my second practice is what really made me," said Robinson, who said it is cool to look back on the memories now. "Oh yeah, always. You never forget where you come from."
PHILADELPHIA -- There’s an old saying that sums up a superior head coach: He can beat your team with his team, and he can take your team and beat you coaching his team.

That comes close to describing what happened to Eagles coach Chip Kelly in his first NFL playoff game Saturday night. Kelly's otherwise impressive debut season ended by getting schooled by Saints head coach Sean Payton and his staff.

The Eagles were the team with the No. 1 rushing attack in the NFL. Payton turned the tables, running the ball down the Eagles’ throats. The Eagles' defense prided itself on stopping the run first, but it was the Saints' defense that rendered LeSean McCoy a non-factor for much of the game.

The Saints focused on stopping McCoy and DeSean Jackson, the Eagles’ two most dangerous weapons. Kelly couldn’t find a way to unleash them or to beat the Saints with other players.

[+] EnlargeMark Ingram
Elsa/Getty ImagesMark Ingram and the Saints found plenty of room to run Saturday night.
The Eagles focused on stopping Saints tight end Jimmy Graham and had some success. But it was beside the point, because Payton shredded the Eagles with Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson.

“They were running downhill,” Kelly said. “If you told [me] going in we were going to hold Jimmy Graham to three catches, I thought that would be a pretty good deal. But give them credit. They did a really good job of running the football against us, which was a little bit uncharacteristic of us. We’ve done a pretty good job of that all year long.”

Not Saturday. The Saints rushed for 185 yards, averaging 5.1 yards per carry.

“That is on me,” defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. “I made the calls so their passing game wouldn’t result in big plays. There was a lot more split safety and pass-oriented calls. Some of the runs leaked out. I could have called more of a run-heavy defensive game and shut that down, but we were trying to keep the points down and the big plays off us.”

The Saints scored 26 points – 20 in the second half – and had four plays of more than 20 yards.

On the other side of the ball, the Eagles couldn’t really explain why McCoy was held to 77 yards on 21 carries. That’s 3.7 yards per carry, 1.4 yards below his regular-season average.

“Early on, there was some miscommunication,” center Jason Kelce said. “The first two drives in particular, guys didn’t understand where the point [of attack] was or who they had [to block]. There would be lanes open, but they would close right away.”

That sounds like the trenches-level view of an offense that was confused and surprised by what the defense was doing. And that is coaching.

“I’ll give credit to [Saints defensive coach] Rob Ryan,” Kelly said. “Rob did a nice job. They had a really good game plan.”

Coaching is also about adjusting within the game. In the first half, the Eagles had targeted Jackson only once. The ball was thrown well over his head.

“We tried,” Kelly said. “The first couple of plays at the beginning of the second half were trying to get the ball to him, but we took sacks again and didn’t get the ball out in time.”

The Eagles’ first two possessions after the coaches made halftime adjustments netted minus-9 yards. The Saints’ first two possessions of the second half netted 119 yards and two touchdowns.

The Eagles’ two second-half touchdown drives consisted mostly of two jump balls thrown to Jackson. When Saints rookie cornerback Keenan Lewis got hurt, quarterback Nick Foles attacked his replacement, Corey White. Jackson caught the first one for a 40-yard gain. White committed a 40-yard pass interference penalty on the second.

The penalty set up the Eagles’ go-ahead touchdown with just under five minutes left in the game. They never got the ball back. Just as the Eagles had sustained long time-killing drives in Green Bay and Tampa, when the opponent knew they were running and couldn’t do anything about it, the Saints ran the clock down to zero and won the game.

"That was the story of the game," Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin said. "This was the wrong time to give up [rushing yards]. It was way too much and it showed on that last drive."

Payton didn’t beat Kelly with his own team, but he came close. He beat Kelly with his own philosophy.
METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints’ run game, which remains a work in progress midway through the 2013 season, will face its stiffest test yet on Sunday. The New York Jets defense ranks first in the NFL against the run, allowing just 77.9 yards per game.

The Saints, who rank 25th at 85.3 yards per game, have been showing signs recently that they’re up for the challenge, with two of their best efforts overall in the past two games.

But they continue to take two steps forward and one step back.

[+] EnlargePierre Thomas
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsPierre Thomas had his best performance of the season this past Sunday, but the Saints are seeking more consistency in their running game.
Negative runs have been a consistent problem for the Saints all season. According to ESPN Stats & Information, they have lost yardage on 25 runs this year (not counting quarterback kneel-downs).

That rate of 3.6 per game is the third highest in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information (behind two teams – San Francisco and Seattle – that run the ball a lot more).

The Saints are on pace for 57 negative runs this year. From 2009-12, they averaged 34 negative runs per year.

“I think you’re seeing more 6, 7, 8-yard runs. More consistency. The problem is when there’s three negative-1s or a negative-3,” Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief said. “It destroys the whole stat line and it stalls the offense. Those are the plays that have to be eliminated.

“Negative runs happen, but I think they’re happening at too high of a rate at this point.”

The Saints had one of their better efforts overall last Sunday against the Buffalo Bills – especially running back Pierre Thomas, who gained a season-high 65 yards on 14 carries (an average of 4.6). Thomas had gains of 13 and 12 yards and a total of seven gains of five yards or more.

But the Saints went backward twice in the first quarter, including a 2-yard loss by Khiry Robinson that never had a chance on third-and-1. Robinson, who typically plays in more predictable rushing situations, gained just nine yards on seven carries after he had run for 53 yards on seven carries against the New England Patriots in Week 6.

A backward run also made a huge impact during that Week 6 loss to the Patriots. When the Saints were trying to run out the clock late in the fourth quarter, they ran for four yards on a first-and-10 play – then lost a yard on second-and-6 with Thomas carrying the ball.

There hasn't been any one obvious problem for the Saints in those situations. The negative runs have come with different running backs, different linemen and different blocking schemes. Sometimes it's play design, sometimes execution. Whatever the case, the Saints know it has to be better.

“We have to give coach the confidence that we’re not going to have a negative play,” Strief said. “That a running play is not going to put us in a bad position, to where we have more confidence calling those plays in some more situations.”

Saints coach Sean Payton said he would have actually preferred to run the ball more in the first half against Buffalo when he looked back on the game.

The Saints ran the ball nine times in the first half – showing that variety between hits and misses: 6, 8, 1, minus-2, minus-1, 2, 12, 0, 6.

“We would have liked more attempts at it, and some of those we didn’t get in the first half,” Payton said. “But overall we’re making progress there.”
The New Orleans Saints tried to alleviate some congestion in their crowded backfield this offseason by trading running back Chris Ivory to the New York Jets. But then they went and added a new undrafted free agent, Khiry Robinson, whose performance is demanding he remain part of the rotation.

Robinson (6 feet, 220 pounds) has made the most of his limited opportunities over the past four weeks since Mark Ingram went down with a toe injury. Ingram is expected to return to the lineup after the Week 7 bye. But the Saints will likely try to figure out how to keep Robinson in the mix along with Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and Ingram.

[+] EnlargeKhiry Robinson
AP Photo/Steven SenneSaints RB Khiry Robinson had an explosive second-half performance against New England.
Robinson had his most outstanding performance to date in Sunday’s 30-27 loss to the New England Patriots. He gained 53 yards on seven carries, all in the second half -- including a terrific 20-yard gain, a 16-yard gain and a 3-yard touchdown. In addition to his power-speed combo, Robinson has shown great instincts and vision on several nifty cutback runs this season. That was especially true on his 20-yard gain in the fourth quarter against the Patriots, when he cut back outside to the right, then kept his balance while breaking a leg tackle.

Unfortunately, on the very next play, Robinson committed the ultimate sin for a rookie trying to earn trust. He appeared to fumble the football on a 4-yard gain up the middle. Although a fumble wasn’t called on the field, the Patriots may have challenged the ruling if Saints left tackle Charles Brown hadn’t recovered.

Robinson also fumbled twice in the fourth preseason game. And when asked Monday if Robinson is earning his trust, Saints coach Sean Payton immediately mentioned the fumble.

“I think the ball came out on a play,” Payton said. “I thought he handled the opportunities outstanding. But the ball security for a young player of understanding how difficult it is in our league is something we will continue to work on.

“But to answer the question, he’s been explosive. He’s been tough. He’s been hard-nosed. And we will continue to look at his snaps and evaluate how he fits in each game plan.”

It's a good sign for Robinson that the Saints continued to give him carries in the fourth quarter after the fumble, while they were trying to run out the clock to protect a lead.

I’ve been saying for weeks that I expect Ingram to resume his role in a timeshare with Thomas as the leading base-package runners when he returns from his toe injury. Although Ingram struggled in the first two games, the entire run game was struggling badly at that point. And the Saints were still so high on Ingram’s potential heading into this season that I don’t expect that to change overnight.

But the way Robinson has played in recent weeks will certainly make it difficult to take him off the field. The Saints may opt to stick with the hot hand. Robinson and Thomas both helped give the Saints offense life in the second half at New England when the passing game was struggling early.

Ideally for the Saints, their overall running game will keep improving to the point where there’s enough touches to go around for all of their running backs.

Rapid Reaction: New Orleans Saints

October, 13, 2013
10/13/13
8:00
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A few thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' 30-27 loss, their first of the season, to the New England Patriots.

What it means: This was a devastating way to lose, with the Saints giving up a 17-yard touchdown pass with five seconds remaining. But I imagine they'll take some positives out of the way they fought back from a sloppy start to almost pull off the victory. The Saints showed perseverance after the Patriots (5-1) did an excellent job of taking away some of their go-to offensive weapons (Jimmy Graham had zero catches, Marques Colston had only one).

Brees contained: Quarterback Drew Brees also didn't have his best day (17-of-36, two touchdowns, one interception). But the Saints fought back from an early 17-7 deficit thanks in large part to their run game, some great defensive stands and a touchdown pass from Brees to Kenny Stills. Ultimately, though, the defense couldn't make the final stand. Tom Brady threw a beautiful score to Kenbrell Thompkins over cornerback Jabari Greer.

Graham stymied: It was a rough day for the Saints' star tight end, who was held without a catch for the first time since 2010 and left with an ankle injury in the fourth quarter (severity not immediately known – though he did briefly return to action). Early in the game, the Patriots used the rare tactic of matching physical cornerback Aqib Talib up against Graham, which worked well. After Talib got hurt, the Patriots mostly used safety/former cornerback Devin McCourty, as well as double teams.

Brees probably tried to force the ball to Graham a few times too many (once resulting in an interception that set up a field goal in the fourth quarter). But the Saints did a better job of staying patient with the run game in the second half.

Stock watch: The Saints' rookie offensive weapons came up big while some of the veterans were struggling. Stills made the biggest offensive play of the game with his leaping touchdown grab in double coverage on third-and-20 late in the fourth quarter. Running back Khiry Robinson ran for 53 yards and a touchdown on just seven carries -- all in the second half.

Up next: The Saints head into their bye week at a good time after falling to 5-1 -- especially with some new injuries to deal with (defensive end Cameron Jordan also left the game temporarily with a lower leg injury). They'll have a good opportunity to resurrect their momentum with a home game against the Buffalo Bills in Week 8.
The New Orleans Saints have used six undrafted rookies in their lineup this season after defensive end Glenn Foster and tailback Khiry Robinson made their debuts last Sunday. (The others are guard Tim Lelito, tight end Josh Hill, linebacker Kevin Reddick and cornerback Rod Sweeting.) According to ESPN Stats & Information, that’s tied, with Cleveland, for the most in the NFL.

But that’s nothing new around New Orleans during the Sean Payton era. The Saints have never been shy about throwing undrafted rookies into the mix – including two of their longtime offensive stars, receiver Lance Moore (began with the Browns before joining the Saints in 2006) and tailback Pierre Thomas (signed by the Saints after the draft in 2007). As Payton likes to say, the Saints don’t care where their players came from. They go by what they see on the field.

The Saints currently have 23 players on their 53-man roster who were undrafted when they came into the NFL, including veteran starters such as cornerback Jabari Greer and linebacker David Hawthorne who played for other teams before joining the Saints.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Saints have used a total of 64 undrafted players since 2006, the third most in the NFL. The league average is 47 during that span. And dating back to 2008, the Saints have had undrafted players take 22.3 percent of all offensive or defensive snaps, the fifth most in the NFL.

Here’s the complete list of players on the Saints’ 53-man roster who were not drafted (* denotes a starter):

Offense

*WR Lance Moore, *RB Pierre Thomas, *C Brian de la Puente, *FB Jed Collins, RB Travaris Cadet, RB Khiry Robinson, G Tim Lelito, T Bryce Harris, TE Josh Hill

Defense

*CB Jabari Greer, *LB David Hawthorne, *LB Junior Galette, S Rafael Bush, S Isa Abdul-Quddus, CB Chris Carr, LB Ramon Humber, DE Tom Johnson, DE Tyrunn Walker, DE Glenn Foster, LB Kevin Reddick, CB Rod Sweeting

Special teams

*K Garrett Hartley, *LS Justin Drescher

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