New Orleans Saints Training Camp Preview
New Orleans Saints Training Camp Preview
2012 was a tough year for the New Orleans Saints. A perennial Super Bowl contender, last year was doomed from the beginning. The Bounty Gate scandal loomed over the team all season, and a 7-9 record gave the team its first losing season since 2007.
Things look much more promising in 2013.
The most important casualty of Bounty Gate was the loss of head coach Sean Payton for the year, but he's returning to the sidelines this year. And that's the difference between a 7-9 season and the year the Saints are expecting to have in 2013.
Coaches in the NFL are more important to their teams then coaches/managers in any other sport. They control everything that happens on the field during games, and Payton is one of the best in the business. Having him back calling plays and running the show will have the Saints back at the top of the NFL mountain.
While the offense is looking to get back to where they were the last few years, the defense is looking to turn over a new leaf.
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was brought in to turn around a defense that finished 31st against the pass last year and dead last against the run. Ryan brings with him a new scheme, the team is switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4, but more importantly a new attitude.
Ryan's defenses are known for being fast and aggressive, much like the defense the Saints had when they won their Super Bowl.
2012 was a disappointing year in the Big Easy, but 2013 will be a return to glory for the talented Saints squad. And it all starts July 18th when the players begin to report for training camp.
The quarterback situation in New Orleans is as good as it gets in the NFL. Drew Brees, one of the truly elite quarterbacks in the NFL, is ready for another great year with Payton back at the helm.
Luke McCown and Seneca Wallace will battle for the backup role. Neither will be as good as former second stringer Chase Daniels, but hopefully for Saints fans, Brees will keep them both firmly on the sidelines in 2013.
The running back situation has been confusing in New Orleans for a few years now. Mark Ingram was drafted in the first round of the 2011 draft to be the No. 1 guy, but he can't seem to separate himself from Pierre Thomas. Ingram will again try to compete for more carries this year and Thomas is ready for another solid season.
The No. 1 guy could end up being the consistently underrated Darren Sproles, who should again flourish with Sean Payton calling plays, like he did in 2011.
Rounding out another deep running back group for the Saints, talented backup Travaris Cadet will be ready to step up if needed.
Wide Receivers / Tight Ends
The Saints have had one of the deepest wide receiver squads in the league for the last few years. Aside from Drew Brees, they've been the engine that's driven the prolific New Orleans offense.
They bring back their top three receivers from last year. Marques Colston is the No. 1 guy on the outside, and Lance Moore comes back for another good year as the slot receiver.
Jimmy Graham, one of the best tight ends in the league, is primed for another year of dominating NFL defenses.
The Saints also have good young receivers filling the backup roles. They brought in former St. Louis Rams receiver Chris Givens as a free agent, who should provide good depth as the third receiver. Nick Toon is looking to rebound from a disappointing rookie campaign and fifth round pick Kenny Stills can be a good possession receiver.
Jahri Evans anchors a good offensive line for the Saints. Evans will start at right guard with Ben Grubbs at the other guard and Brian De La Puente at center.
The tackle spots are less sure with the loss of Jermon Bushrod to the Chicago Bears in free agency. Zach Strief has been the starter at right tackle for the past two seasons, but he might be called upon to switch to the left side and protect Drew Brees' blindside unless Charles Brown can step up and earn the job.
Terron Armstead and former No. 2 overall pick Jason Smith will provide depth.
Defensive line was a weakness for the Saints last year, but the transition to a 3-4 will help mask that weakness this year. In a 4-3, the defensive line needs to make plays; in a 3-4, they can be little more than blockers for the playmakers behind them.
The good news is the defensive line group in New Orleans is young and talented. Third round pick John Jenkins from the University of Georgia, a big body at 6-foot-3, 359 pounds, is the projected starter at nose tackle. Akiem Hicks will likely slide over to one tackle spot and can build on a solid rookie year. Throw in former first round pick Cameron Jordan, and you have an interesting, talented young group with plenty of upside.
The switch to a 3-4 scheme means that the linebacking corps will be more important than ever in New Orleans.
Will Smith will make the transition from defensive end to outside linebacker, but won't have much trouble because he'll still be asked to mainly rush the passer. Martez Wilson is the front runner to start at the other outside linebacker spot with Junior Galette providing depth.
The middle linebacker spots are more up for grabs. Former Atlanta Falcon Curtis Lofton will get the start on the strong side, but the weak side spot could end up being a time share between David Hawthorne and Jonathan Vilma. Hawthorne had a good but not great year last season and Vilma is looking to bounce back from a lost year in 2012.
Also look for Chase Thomas, an undrafted rookie free agent from Stanford University, to be in the mix for a roster spot as a backup this summer.
The transition to a new defense is never easy, but the Saints need a few of their linebackers to step up as leaders in training camp.
Defensive backs are shaping up to be a real position of strength in New Orleans this season.
Keenan Lewis joined the team this spring as a free agent and is ready to step up as a starter for the Saints. Lewis will be paired with Jabari Greer, who was tied for the team lead in interceptions last year.
The Saints didn't stop adding new players in the secondary there. They also used their first round pick to take safety Kenny Vaccaro out of the University of Texas. The talented rookie is the front runner for the strong safety job. Pairing Vaccaro with Malcom Jenkins gives the Saints one of the most talented safety tandems in the league.
Veterans Roman Harper and Jim Leonard provide depth and leadership for the group.
2013 will look much the same as 2012 in the special teams department for New Orleans.
Garrett Hartley returns at kicker and Thomas Morstead will again be the punter.
Darren Sproles will be the No. 1 return man, but don't be surprised if Travaris Candidate finds a way to get himself on the field in the return game.
Breakout Candidate: Nick Toon
Nick Toon had a disappointing season last year. After being the Saints' fourth round pick in 2012, he spent his rookie campaign on injured reserve.
Breakout Candidate: Akiem Nicks
The Saints drafted defensive tackle Akiem Hicks in the third round last year. He had a promising rookie season, playing mostly in a backup role.
The team's transition to a 3-4 defensive scheme should provide Hicks the opportunity he needs to have a breakout year in 2013.