NFL Nation: Nick Toon

Saints’ Camp Report Day 14

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
7:58
PM ET
A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New Orleans Saints training camp:
  • Coaches and players were much more pleased with the effort and energy during Tuesday’s practice after Sean Payton called the team out for having its flattest performance to date on Monday. The Saints held another physical short-yardage session, and you could hear the pads popping and players shouting throughout. “I thought it was better from both sides. When they are arguing over whether you made it or not (it’s a good sign),” Payton said. “We’ll look at it on tape and try to grade each one. But I thought it was more competitive. Definitely more lively.” Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan felt the same way -- also a good sign when both sides are happy. “This was much more like it,” Ryan said. “We liked the hitting there.”
  • Unfortunately we didn’t have a great angle during that session, so it’s hard to point out which individuals stood out. But the first-string defense started strong with two run stuffs, followed by a first-down conversion by the offense on the third try. ... Later in practice, the defensive line appeared to load up on would-be sacks (if they were live-tackling quarterbacks), with Cameron Jordan, Parys Haralson, Tyrunn Walker, Glenn Foster, Rufus Johnson and Kasim Edebali among those bringing pressure. So all in all, it was a standout day for the defensive front seven.
  • The offensive star of the day was probably wide receiver Nick Toon, who made a couple nice catches, including a deep ball from Ryan Griffin against tight coverage by cornerback Stan Jean-Baptiste. Jean-Baptiste ran stride for stride down the field with Toon but wasn’t able to locate the ball in the air -- similar to what happened in the preseason opener. Jean-Baptiste is still maturing, though, and he rallied back with two pass break-ups, including one against Toon.
  • The Saints were visited by another golf superstar Thursday, when Sir Nick Faldo watched practice and broke down the team afterward. Whatever he said had the team cracking up, and offensive tackle Zach Strief said they tried to invite him to the rookie talent show later that night. Like previous training camp guest Bubba Watson, Faldo has a home in The Greenbrier area in West Virginia where the Saints are training. “That was a pretty cool deal,” Strief said. “I’ve never met a knight before, so that was pretty awesome. He wasn’t dressed exactly how I thought my first knight would be dressed. But you talk about a guy who won six majors, (40) tournaments, that’s a pretty impressive pedigree.”
  • Wednesday will be a bittersweet day for the Saints -- their last day of practices at The Greenbrier. A full practice is scheduled for 8:50 a.m. ET, followed by a 4:30 p.m. walkthrough. The cool temperatures and top-notch facilities have been widely praised by everyone in the organization, and they’re excited about returning in future years. But players said they’re also eager to return home, starting with their debut in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Friday night.

Saints Camp Report: Day 5

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
7:00
PM ET
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of New Orleans Saints training camp:
  • Another day, another "wow" moment for rookie Saints receiver Brandin Cooks. At some point, I'm going to have to borrow a Sean Payton term and start "de-recruiting" Cooks instead of continuing to pump him up. But that's hard to do when he keeps making eye-popping plays. This time Cooks took a screen pass from Drew Brees and shot past a couple hapless defenders for a touchdown. Cooks also showed off some receiving skills on a nifty back-shoulder catch from Brees, among other highlights. "That was awesome. ... I think that just gives you a taste of what we have in him," Brees said of the screen play. "(Some people) are straight-line fast but not real quick or they have long strides or short-area quickness but not long speed. This guy has it all. He's got short-area quickness, great transition ability and phenomenal straight-line speed."
  • Fellow receiver Nick Toon has also continued to impress throughout training camp. The third-year pro sprung free for one deep ball and went up high to pluck another pass out of the air. It was just another typical practice for Toon this summer as he has probably racked up more catches in team drills than any receiver in camp. ... Of course Toon has looked good in training camps past, and his job this year will be to prove that it can translate onto the field. But Brees, for one, sees Toon playing more "natural" with more "confidence."
  • I've said over the past couple days that 1-on-1 pass-rush drills are my favorite individual segment in camp. But I specifically like watching the daily battles between guard Jahri Evans and defensive end Akiem Hicks. They're both so strong, it's like the irresistible force vs. the immovable object. Credit Evans for holding his own so far in a drill that's designed to favor the defense, but they both look good.
  • Safety Jairus Byrd wasn't the only one back from injury Tuesday. Receiver Robert Meachem (back) and offensive tackle Tavon Rooks (back) also returned from injuries. … Among other highlights from Wednesday's session: an interception by cornerback Terrence Frederick on an overthrown deep ball by Luke McCown; a huge run block by right tackle Thomas Welch that upended safety Vinnie Sunseri; and a great pass break-up deep down the field by Corey White against QB Ryan Griffin at the end of practice.
  • No practice Wednesday. Players will have their first off-day of camp after five straight days of practice. They'll be back on the field Thursday morning.
METAIRIE, La. -- Yeah, it’s probably fair to label this as a “make or break” year for New Orleans Saints receiver Nick Toon.

The third-year pro is out of redshirt eligibility now after missing his rookie year with a foot injury and spending most of last season as the inactive fifth receiver. Now he needs to turn his potential into production.

However, it’s important to stress that last season was not a make or break year for Toon.

Even though he struggled in his one big audition against the New York Jets last season, the Saints are still very high on Toon’s potential and consider him a young player on the rise -- something coaches Sean Payton and Henry Ellard and general manager Mickey Loomis have all stressed this offseason.

[+] EnlargeNew Orleans' Nick Toon
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsNick Toon has four receptions for the Saints, but hopes to earn a bigger role in the offense this year.
Toon has continued to shine during these summer practices, and he has a great shot of earning that No. 4 receiver job in a battle with the likes of Robert Meachem and Joe Morgan.

“I think that what was challenging last year was just our numbers (at the receiver position). ... It was hard to get him on the field,” Payton explained. “I would expect him to play a bigger role for our offense this season. I thought he played real well in his opportunities last year in training camp. He’s doing well here in this offseason. His progress is important to us. With the loss of a number of players, particularly Lance Moore, I think you’ll see more snaps for him and more opportunities.

“I’m sure he sees himself as a guy that is going to be not just in the mix to play receiver, but in the mix to get plays for him. He is doing real well.”

Toon (6-foot-4, 218 pounds) did have an excellent performance in the preseason last year. Unfortunately, he is probably remembered best for his performance in that Jets game, when he dropped two key passes in the first half -- one of which could have resulted in a touchdown on a deep ball, and the other which resulted in an interception after he tipped it up.

Toon played extensively in that game because starter Marques Colston was injured. And it was definitely a missed opportunity for the young receiver -- in the place where his father, Al Toon, used to be a star receiver for the Jets, of all places.

If Toon had shined in that game, then the Saints might have felt forced into putting him on the field more -- like what happened late in the year with rookie running back Khiry Robinson.

However, the fact that Toon went back to the inactive list soon after that game was not an indication that he was being punished or demoted.

“I think everything’s a learning experience,” said Toon, who said he didn’t dwell too much on that missed opportunity last season. “You know, last year was what it was, and I learned a lot last year, and it’s helped me transition into this year. And I feel I’ve had a great start thus far.

“You know, we’ve got a long way to go to get ready for the season. But I’m really looking forward to this year.”

Toon said he believes he needs to seize his opportunity this year -- but he said, “I think that’s every year.”

“You can’t ever go into any year thinking that you have time to waste,” said Toon, who was drafted in the fifth round out of Wisconsin in 2012 before landing on injured reserve with a nagging foot injury. “This is a competitive league. This is the best players in the world at this level. So you can never stop getting better, you can never stop improving, and every day is a new opportunity.”

Toon’s path to playing time isn’t really any clearer than it was a year ago. Even though the Saints released Moore, they drafted receiver Brandin Cooks in the first round. So Colston, Kenny Stills and Cooks are virtually locks for the top three receiver spots.

That leaves Toon battling veteran Meachem (a guy who passed up Toon last season when the Saints re-signed him in Week 1) and Morgan (a guy who did seize his own opportunity with a strong performance in 2012 before suffering a major knee injury last year).

But Toon insisted that he’s not focused on breaking down the other receivers and where he fits in the hierarchy.

“My job is to go out there and do what I do to the best of my ability,” Toon said. “And the rest is up to the coaching staff, and it’ll all play out like it’s supposed to.”
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.
MOBILE, Ala. -- Ever since Sean Payton, Drew Brees, Reggie Bush, Jahri Evans and Marques Colston arrived together in 2006, it's seemed like the New Orleans Saints have had their offensive core in place, and they've needed to build a complementary defense.

[+] EnlargeNew Orleans' Nick Toon
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsReceiver Nick Toon will see more opportunities moving forward, Saints GM Mickey Loomis said.
For example, their top pick in each of the past six drafts has been a defensive player. And most of the Saints' significant free-agent acquisitions have been defensive players during that span, as well.

But suddenly, the Saints' defense seems loaded with young building blocks after breakout performances in 2013 by guys such as ends Cameron Jordan, Junior Galette and Akiem Hicks and defensive backs Keenan Lewis and Kenny Vaccaro.

And by comparison, the offense has started to look like the unit that needs more young developmental talent for the future -- especially at the offensive line and receiver positions. The immediate future of veterans such as right tackle Zach Strief, center Brian de la Puente and receivers Lance Moore and Robert Meachem is in some doubt for various reasons (free agency, the cap, diminishing roles). And someday Brees, Evans and Colston will need to be replaced, too -- though the Saints are hoping they've all got several good years left in them.

"It's a good question," Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said when I asked if the team's focus needs to shift this offseason toward stocking that next generation of offensive talent. "The last few years the focus has been more on defense in the offseason and with the draft. I think it's going to be more balanced this year."

Loomis was quick to point out, however, that the Saints do like the potential of several young offensive players who contributed in 2013 -- even though they weren't big draft or free-agent investments.

"We've got some good young players," Loomis said while visiting with the media during a Senior Bowl practice Tuesday. "[Rookie left tackle] Terron Armstead, I thought, was really good in those last four games. Obviously, he had a few struggles early, but he responded, so I think we're excited about the prospects for him.

"We like this [guard/center] Tim Lelito, he's an undrafted free agent who we're excited about. [Receiver] Kenny Stills was productive as a rookie, fifth-round pick. And we like [second-year receiver] Nick Toon. Nick has been held back by the number of opportunities we can give him. Josh Hill, a [undrafted rookie] tight end. So we've got some good young players on offense. I know it might seem like we don't, but we do."

Toon is one of the most curious names on that list since he was inactive for the second half of the season after struggling when he got his most prominent opportunity of the year against the New York Jets. But when asked if Toon was in the "doghouse," Loomis explained what I always figured to be the case -- that Toon was simply stuck in the back of a crowded position group.

Maybe if Toon had performed better in New York, he would have forced the Saints to keep him in the lineup. But for the most part, he was active for a handful of games when the Saints had injury issues -- then he went back to being the inactive fifth receiver when everyone else was healthy.

"The only thing holding Nick back is the number of opportunities," Loomis said. "He'll get those going forward."

Loomis later spoke about undrafted rookie running back Khiry Robinson, third-year running back Mark Ingram and second-year offensive tackle Bryce Harris, among others whose roles could expand going forward.

It's too early to predict what the Saints' most glaring needs will be in free agency and the draft. They have five starters scheduled to be unrestricted free agents (tight end Jimmy Graham, Strief, de la Puente, safety Malcolm Jenkins and outside linebacker Parys Haralson). They might also opt to part ways with one or more current starters to shed salary-cap space.

But in general, the Saints don't appear to have many positions that "must" be filled in the first round of the draft -- to use a term that the Saints often use when categorizing their offseason needs.

"Always our goal is to fill as many of those holes prior to the draft -- those ‘musts' -- so we can take whatever may fall to us," Loomis said. "Obviously, we're not relying on it, but we'll see what we can do there. It's more of a challenge when you have salary cap issues, obviously. ...

"That best available player [concept in the draft] is always our goal. And that's what we like to talk about. Yet, you always have to have an eye on what you need for our team."

I also jokingly asked Loomis if the Saints have already identified this year's undrafted running back from some Division II school that will come out of nowhere to be a breakout player -- like undrafted standouts Robinson, Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas, among others in the Saints' recent past.

"We're going to," Loomis said with a laugh. "We will have one, I guarantee you that."

Rapid Reaction: New Orleans Saints

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
4:30
PM ET

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few thoughts on the New Orleans Saints' 26-20 loss to the New York Jets, which moved them to 6-2 on the season.

What it means: This was a frustrating loss for the Saints because they shot themselves in the foot so often on offense, defense and special teams. After preaching last week that their 35-17 victory against the Buffalo Bills was too sloppy, the Saints committed many of the same mistakes this week. Way too many big gains allowed by their run defense against New York’s Chris Ivory; penalties, dropped passes and interceptions on offense; a missed field goal and big kick return allowed on special teams.

In the grand scheme of things, the Saints can afford one loss -- especially to an AFC team. But they need to prove this was just an “off day” in chilly, windy weather, rather than the continuation of an ugly trend.

Ryan still winless: No one could have been more disappointed than Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who is now 0-5 in NFL matchups against his brother Rex, the Jets’ head coach. Rob knew this was his best chance yet to beat his brother -- especially with Jets quarterback Geno Smith so inconsistent this season. But the Saints’ defense couldn’t stop the run consistently enough to put Smith in uncomfortable situations.

Stock watch: The Saints’ run defense, which had been up and down all season, definitely did not rise to the challenge against a physical, run-first team. New Orleans allowed a total of 198 yards on 36 carries -- 139 of them by Ivory, the power runner who was traded from the Saints to the Jets this offseason. The Saints left way too many gaping holes and missed too many tackles. Ivory had gains of 52, 30 and 27 yards.

Stock watch II: Saints second-year receiver Nick Toon struggled on a day when he had a chance to play a key role with veteran Marques Colston out with a knee injury. Toon dropped two passes -- one of which was tipped up and intercepted. The other could have been a big gain down the left sideline.

Up next: The Saints will be back in their element next week -- a Sunday night home game against the Dallas Cowboys. The Saints have been dominant in prime-time home games, winning 11 straight and 14 of their past 15, dating back to 2008.

Halftime report: Jets 20, Saints 14

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
2:52
PM ET
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New Orleans Saints are trailing the New York Jets 20-14 at halftime after a sloppy first half on both sides of the ball. Here are a few thoughts on the action so far:

Ivory’s revenge: Former Saints tailback Chris Ivory is making the Saints pay for trading him to the Jets this offseason. He has 10 carries for 93 yards, including a 52-yarder, a 27-yarder and a 3-yard touchdown. It’s not really a “revenge” game for Ivory, since the Saints did him a favor by trading him to New York’s less-crowded backfield. But he’s showing them what they missed out on, regardless.

Two picks for Brees: Saints quarterback Drew Brees has thrown two interceptions in this game after throwing just five in the first seven games. Both of them were tipped balls -- the first when he threw too far behind tight end Benjamin Watson, the second when receiver Nick Toon bobbled a pass. Toon is having a rough day, wasting his chance to step up in Marques Colston’s absence. He also dropped a deep ball down the left sideline earlier in the game.

The Saints are losing the turnover battle 2-0, flipping the script from the rest of the season. Heading into the game, the Saints had a turnover ratio of plus-8 and the Jets minus-12.

Sproles out: The Saints lost one of their top playmakers, running back Darren Sproles, to a concussion on the first series. He’ll be missed today since the Saints are relying heavily on their passing game. The Jets have the NFL’s No. 1-ranked run defense, and they’ve held New Orleans to 16 yards on five carries today.

Graham, Meachem thriving: Two weapons have been thriving for the Saints today. Tight end Jimmy Graham has four catches for 72 yards and two touchdowns. Receiver Robert Meachem has three catches for 88 yards, including a 60-yarder. Expect Brees to lean heavily on Graham in the second half.

Hartley misses again: Saints kicker Garrett Hartley missed another 43-yard field goal, wide left, on the opening drive. He’s now missed three in a row. He can’t afford another miss in a tight game like this.
Thoughts and observations on the New York Jets:

1. The Re-X factor: The top storyline for the second half of the season, which begins Sunday, will be the future of head coach Rex Ryan. Owner Woody Johnson and general manager John Idzik have to make a decision: Extend his contract or fire him. Naturally, the No. 1 factor will be the team's record, but there's another factor that should (and will) loom large in the evaluation -- the development of rookie quarterback Geno Smith.

If Smith makes strides and finishes with his arrow pointing up, it would be a huge boost for Ryan and his coaching staff. It would mean he's developing under Marty Mornhinweg & Co., and what sense would it make to start over next year with a new staff? My sense is that a 7-9 record, with an ascending Smith, would be good enough to earn Ryan another year. Statistically, Smith's second quarter was slightly better than the first, but he'll need more than baby steps over the final eight games to nail down the job for 2014. If he regresses, it won't bode well for Ryan.

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesWill the Jets use another early draft pick to select a QB if rookie Geno Smith continues to struggle the rest of the season?
"If I put on my GM hat, I would tie Rex, Marty and Geno together," said ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer, one of the smart people around football. "The Marty-Geno mix is really good, and I think Marty is good for Rex. The Jets' ceiling, if they acquire more talent, is higher because of Marty's aggressive approach. I wouldn't want to start over with a new guy next year. They should maintain continuity. They're wildly inconsistent, but it looks better and has a better feel than last year. It's a better product."

I agree. But Smith needs to keep going in the right direction.

2. Quarterbacking 101: Dilfer said Smith is operating an offensive system more complex than what the Jets used in Mark Sanchez's rookie year in 2009. In '09, they scaled it back to help Sanchez. It was heavy play-action and they moved the pocket, halving the field and cutting down his reads. With Smith, "It's pure dropback, with complex read progressions," Dilfer said. "Marty is throwing a lot of good stuff at him. It's baptism by fire. Talking to great coaches and great quarterbacks, and knowing my own experience, that's the best way to get the best out of a young quarterback. It speeds them up to the graduate level."

I get it, but I think there should be times when Mornhinweg dials it back a little to help Smith through rough patches.

3. Where the Hill is Stephen? Second-year WR Stephen Hill has become an afterthought in the Jets' offense, raising questions about him. Consider the last five games: 23 targets and only 10 receptions, including five when the team was in an obvious catch-up/passing mode. Save for two big games against the Buffalo Bills, Hill has been a disappointment in his first two seasons. In fact, one-third of his career yardage total (and three of his four TDs) has come in the two Buffalo games.

I asked Mornhinweg about Hill's lack of production, and all he said was, "That's my responsibility. I have to do a better job there." Meaning? "Get him the ball a little bit."

Here's the part that stings the Jets: They drafted Hill in the second round (43rd overall) after trading up, passing up WR Alshon Jeffery, who has become a solid receiver with the Chicago Bears. Jeffery has 57 catches, 928 yards and five touchdowns in two seasons; Hill has 44, 592 and four. The Jets knew Hill would be a project when they drafted him, but it has to be troubling that a receiver off the street -- David Nelson -- has produced better numbers over the past month.

4. Re-visiting Revis Island: Some in the media (including me) have fallen into the trap of trying to imagine the Jets' defense if they had kept CB Darrelle Revis, perhaps conveniently forgetting that he's coming back from major knee surgery. He's still not the Revis of old, and he admitted it the other day on his weekly radio spot in Tampa. Revis, explaining why the Buccaneers haven't used him in the press-man style that made him famous, said his surgically repaired knee has been the main factor.

“Earlier in the year, I didn’t have the explosion to play press; the receiver would just run the [vertical] 9-route on me and I didn’t have the stamina to do that play in and play out, especially playing press," Revis said.

If he were with the Jets, this would be a significant issue, considering their system is predicated on man-to-man coverage.

5. Ivory's payback: Chris Ivory downplayed Sunday's matchup against the New Orleans Saints, his former team, but I suspect he will be highly motivated to prove a point. Back in training camp, Ivory admitted to me that his three-year run in New Orleans was difficult at times because of their crowded backfield.

"I never felt lost, but I didn't like the situation at times," Ivory said. "At the same time, you have to understand there are phases you have to go through, being undrafted. They had guys they drafted, guys they had confidence in. Me, just coming in, I had to build their confidence and it took a little more time."

The Jets traded a fourth-round pick for Ivory, one of only six player trades last offseason involving a fourth-round pick or higher, according to ESPN's John Clayton. The Jets had two of the six -- the Ivory and Revis trades.

6. Revolving door: Because of injuries, it has been difficult to build continuity on offense. In fact, the Jets have used 28 different players, tied with the Bucs for most in the league.

7. Go wide, young man: The Jets aren't known as a perimeter running team, but maybe they should think about it more often. When they run around left end, they average 6.78 yards per carry, the fifth-best mark in the league, according to NFL stats. When they go right end, it's 5.59 yards. Imagine if they had a real perimeter threat.

8. McElroy's intel: Dan Pompei of Bleacher Report spent a week with Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, who allowed behind-the-scenes access as he prepared for last week's game against the Jets. The story reveals that former Jets QB Greg McElroy, a member of the Bengals' practice squad, was a big help. McElroy typed up a tip sheet and gave it to QB Andy Dalton. Gruden also picked his brain on the Jets in a meeting.

"His insight is very helpful," Gruden told Pompei in the middle of the week. "He has a pulse on their defense, what hurts them."

I'd say the Bengals hurt them, all right.

9. Good news/bad news: The Jets are one of only 11 teams since 2001 to have a minus-12 turnover margin or worse through eight games. That's bad. Of those 11 teams, they're the only one to have a .500 record. That's good. It indicates what they could be if Smith stops giving it away.

10. Feeling old: The first time I saw Nick Toon was Nov. 27, 1992, the day his dad, Al, retired from the NFL at the too-young age of 29. Nick was only 4, but he was at the news conference, and I remember seeing him afterward in the parking lot at the Jets' old Hofstra training facility. He hopped into a mini-van, and the family drove off. It always struck me that Al's wife, Jane, was behind the wheel. Al, still suffering from post-concussion syndrome, wasn't fit to drive. Now, Nick is a grown-up wide receiver, and he'll be playing Sunday for the Saints at MetLife Stadium. I'll be in the press box, wondering how 21 years flew by in a minute.

Observation deck: Saints-Raiders

August, 16, 2013
8/16/13
11:18
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.
The New Orleans Saints still are looking for depth at wide receiver after losing Joe Morgan to a season-ending injury.

The team reportedly has signed veteran Patrick Crayton. That comes a week after the team signed another veteran, Steve Breaston. Rookie Kenny Stills and second-year pro Nick Toon also are in the mix for the backup jobs behind Marques Colston and Lance Moore.

Crayton, 34, hasn’t played in the NFL since the 2011 season. But he has some history with coach Sean Payton, who was an assistant in Dallas for the first two seasons of Crayton’s career.
METAIRIE, La. -- The first thing I noticed when watching the New Orleans Saints practice was the silence.

There was no messing around and no coaches screaming at players. Instead, the Saints looked like a veteran team that is intensely focused -- more focused than last year, when chaos surrounded the entire season. Maybe even more focused than in 2009, when the Saints eventually won their first Super Bowl championship.

The quiet practices are a firm sign that coach Sean Payton is back in charge and that this team wants to put last season as far in the past as possible. The bounty scandal that led to the season-long suspension of Payton and a disappointing 7-9 record is over, and the Saints want to return to their winning ways.

“Last year was an apparition," quarterback Drew Brees said. “It was a different time with all the situations that had taken place. This year, just knowing that we’ve got everybody here, this is our team. Nobody’s missing. This is the team that can accomplish great things, and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. Here’s our window of time to bring it together. We know there’s going to be tough times. We know there’s going to be adversity. Build that attitude, build that chemistry, and get ready to make a run at it.”

Payton’s return alone should make a big difference. He’s one of the league’s best coaches and possesses a brilliant offensive mind. After watching his team from a distance last year, Payton had some strong critiques for his players, even the superstars.

Soon after Payton was reinstated, he called tight end Jimmy Graham and told him that a season in which he caught 85 passes but led the league in drops, according to ESPN Stats & Information, wasn’t good enough.

“First, he called me and I didn’t recognize the number so I didn’t pick it up," Graham said. “He was pretty mad because it took like two or three days for me to call him back. The conversation was very serious, talking about his expectations for me and the things that I need to correct from last year and how he’s ready to be back. He’s ready to see my growth even more."

Payton needs to see growth from more than Graham. He’s made it clear that he wants to run the ball more often and that the Saints have to be substantially better on defense.

If the Saints can combine those things with Brees and the passing game, they should be right back in playoff contention.

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. The defensive overhaul. Payton is an offensive guru, but the first order of business upon his reinstatement was to replace defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo with Rob Ryan. Spagnuolo’s defense never caught on in New Orleans, and the Saints finished last season ranked No. 32 in total defense.

The Saints aren’t just switching coordinators. They’re switching schemes. With Payton’s blessing, Ryan is installing a 3-4 scheme. The pass rush now will have to come from the outside linebackers, particularly Junior Galette, Will Smith and Martez Wilson, a trio of guys that previously played defensive end.

The secondary also is going through some major changes. The Saints signed free-agent cornerback Keenan Lewis and drafted safety Kenny Vaccaro in the first round.

The defense will look a lot different because Ryan uses a lot of exotic looks. If the results are different from last season, the Saints will be in good shape.

[+] EnlargeMark Ingram
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireThere won't be any excuses for Mark Ingram this season, as the Saints plan to keep him involved in their running game.
Ingram’s time? Payton repeatedly has said the Saints need to get back to running the ball more efficiently. They were good in that area in their Super Bowl season but got away from the run last season.

There really is no reason the Saints shouldn’t be able to get production from the running game. They have a good offensive line and three talented running backs -- Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas.

The real wild card is Ingram. Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis used a first-round pick on Ingram in 2011, but he hasn’t produced a lot in his first two years. I think Payton is going to make it a point to give Ingram more carries this season.

A new age of receivers. A few years ago, the Saints had a receiving corps as deep as any in the league, which came in handy because they use so many three- and four-receiver sets. But Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson left over the past two seasons. Joe Morgan, who had been ticketed for the third receiver spot, suffered a season-ending injury in camp.

That leaves starters Marques Colston and Lance Moore as the only sure things. Beyond them, there’s a lot of uncertainty. But the Saints hope veteran Steve Breaston, who was signed this week, and second-year pro Nick Toon, who missed his rookie season with an injury, can fill the void.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

Any team that has Brees as its quarterback is going to be competitive. With weapons such as Graham, Colston and Sproles, the Saints are going to score plenty of points. It would be difficult for the defense to be any worse than last season.

If the Saints can just put a middle-of-the-pack defense on the field, they can be a dangerous team.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

Rob Ryan
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsRob Ryan will bring an aggressive new 3-4 attack to New Orleans, but do the Saints have the proper personnel to run it effectively off the bat?
The Saints already have had some tough breaks when it comes to injuries. Defensive end Kenyon Coleman and outside linebacker Victor Butler, who were brought in specifically to fill important roles in Ryan’s defensive scheme, already have suffered season-ending injuries.

Ryan is an aggressive coach, and the 3-4 has had plenty of success around the league in recent years. But I’m not sure Ryan has the personnel to make this defense succeed. It could take another offseason to get this defense fully stocked.

OBSERVATION DECK

One of the brightest spots in training camp has been the play of second-year defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. I saw him make several big plays during my visit. Hicks is going to get his chance to shine in the regular season, and with Coleman out, it looks like he'll be a starter at defensive end.

In another sign that the Saints are serious about running the ball more, Graham has bulked up. The tight end said he now weighs about 270 pounds and that he’s focusing on becoming a better blocker.

The Saints have a history of finding unheralded running backs who end up making a contribution (see Chris Ivory and Travaris Cadet). They might have found another one in Khiry Robinson, an undrafted free agent out of West Texas A&M. Robinson has flashed big-play ability in camp. The Saints have so much depth at running back that it might be tough for him to make the roster, but he could end up on the practice squad.

There was some thought that Jason Smith, a former first-round pick by the St. Louis Rams, could end up as the starting left tackle. But it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. Charles Brown has been getting virtually all the first-team work. Smith has fallen to third on the depth chart and is working behind rookie Terron Armstead. It’s looking like Smith might not even make the roster.

In recent years, the Saints have brought rookie defensive backs along slowly. Malcolm Jenkins and Patrick Robinson didn’t play significant roles in their first seasons. But I don’t think the Saints are going to be cautious with Vaccaro. Whether it’s at one of the safety spots or as the nickelback, Vaccaro is going to play a lot this season.
Three things to watch for when the New Orleans Saints play the Kansas City Chiefs on Friday:

1. The wide receivers. With Joe Morgan lost for the season, the competition for the third wide receiver spot is wide open. Veteran Steve Breaston was brought in, but the Saints want to take an extended look at some of their young receivers, including Nick Toon and Kenny Stills.

2. The backup quarterbacks. Drew Brees likely will make only a quick appearance because the Saints are well aware of what he can do. But they need to get a look at Luke McCown and Seneca Wallace in game conditions. McCown might have a slight edge because Wallace missed some practice time with an injury, but this competition remains wide open.

3. The left tackles. Charles Brown has gotten virtually all of the first-team work in training camp. But he doesn’t have the starting job locked down just yet. Brown needs to perform well under game conditions and the Saints also want to take a look at rookie Terron Armstead.
METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints got a double dose of bad news Wednesday.

Receiver Joe Morgan will miss the season with a knee injury, coach Sean Payton said. Payton also said it’s likely defensive end Kenyon Coleman will miss the season with a pectoral injury. Payton said Morgan was scheduled for surgery Wednesday, and Coleman likely will have surgery Thursday.

The loss of Coleman is substantial. He was expected to start at defensive end. Coleman is the second projected starter to suffer a season-ending injury. Outside linebacker Victor Butler suffered a season-ending injury during offseason workouts.

With Coleman out, the Saints are likely to take a long look at second-year pro Akiem Hicks, who has been working at both defensive end spots and defensive tackle.

Morgan had appeared to be the leader in the competition for the No. 3 receiver spot. Veteran Steve Breaston and second-year pro Nick Toon are likely to be next in line to compete for the third spot.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

One key positional battle for each NFC South team as training camps get underway.

Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons are pretty well set at the offensive skill positions, but one guy to keep an eye on in training camp and the preseason is running back Jacquizz Rodgers. With the arrival of Steven Jackson, will Rodgers have a role as the third-down back? Jackson has a strong history of catching passes out of the backfield, but the coaching staff likes Rodgers and believes he has home run potential every time he touches the ball.

Carolina Panthers. From a fantasy standpoint, the issue is whether DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart will be the primary ball carrier. If both are healthy, they’ll split carries to some degree. But Stewart’s health remains a big question. He’s coming off surgery on both ankles and has had an assortment of injuries throughout his career. Williams had a strong finish last season and that may put him in the good graces of the coaching staff.

New Orleans Saints. The departure of Devery Henderson leaves the Saints looking for a third receiver after Marques Colston and Lance Moore. This position is critical because the Saints use so many three-receiver sets. Joe Morgan and Nick Toon appear to be the leading candidates for this job. Morgan seemed to have the advantage in minicamp, but the competition likely will go through camp and the preseason. Morgan is a long strider who has shown an ability to make some big plays. Toon, who missed his rookie year with an injury, is more of a possession receiver.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Veteran tight end Dallas Clark wasn’t re-signed and that means there will be a preseason battle for playing time at tight end. Luke Stocker and Tom Crabtree appear to be the front-runners, but neither has produced much yet. The Bucs believe Stocker can do a little bit of everything and could blossom. But they also think that Crabtree, who was brought in from Green Bay, can be a productive pass catcher. Still, from a fantasy standpoint, drafting a Tampa Bay tight end probably isn’t a great idea.
METAIRIE, La. -- I’m getting ready to head out and watch the first session of the New Orleans Saints’ minicamp.

I’ll be back with more on the Saints later. But here are five things I’ll be keeping a close eye on.

The defensive vibe: Throughout the OTAs (organized team activities), there has been a lot of positive talk about new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. I want to see him in action. More importantly, I want to see his defense in action. New Orleans had the worst defense in the league last season, and something dramatic had to be done. I remember the stir Gregg Williams caused when he arrived as defensive coordinator in 2009. The defense was jumping after every loose ball in minicamp and training camp, and that created a swagger. I’m curious to see if Ryan is duplicating that.

Payton’s return: Coach Sean Payton has been back from his suspension for several months. But the mandatory minicamp will be his first formal time back with his players. I didn’t realize Payton’s true value to his team until he was out. Things were quieter with assistant head coach Joe Vitt running the team in minicamp and training camp last year. I’m guessing Payton’s presence will make things a bit more spirited.

The backfield rotation: In his third season, running back Mark Ingram is entering a critical time. The former first-round pick has been part of a logjam in the backfield. I think Ingram can be a solid player if he gets on the field more often. He needs to use the offseason to show the coaching staff he deserves to be on the field more than Pierre Thomas.

The third-receiver battle: The Saints used to have one of the league’s deepest receiving corps. But it’s looking a little thin after starters Marques Colston and Lance Moore right now. That said, the Saints have plenty of candidates to emerge as big parts of the offense. I want to see if Nick Toon, Joe Morgan, Preston Parker or rookie Kenny Stills steps up.

The competition at left tackle: Jermon Bushrod's departure as a free agent left a big void. The Saints don’t have a clear answer. They’re letting rookie Terron Armstead compete with Charles Brown and Jason Smith for the starting job. The minicamp should give us an indication of who’s leading the competition.

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