In just a few days, the New Orleans Saints will be in training camp mode. Rookies will report on July 19, while the veterans report a week later on July 26. Naturally, a big draw for this season is the return to the team’s practice facility in Metairie. Before we get to what promises to be an entertaining period, here’s some of the biggest storylines we’ll be watching, and some questions we’d like answered over the next several weeks.
Will the succession plan for Nick Fairley be enough?
Fans were on pins and needles awaiting the final word on the veteran defensive tackle’s future, and the final ruling was that Fairley would be shelved for 2017. Tony McDaniel was signed by the team during minicamp, so the assumption is that he’s going into training camp to compete. He’ll pen in as a Kevin Williams-type, working primarily on first and second down. The Saints will obviously miss his presence in the middle, to the tune of 742 snaps for Dennis Allen in 2016. They’ll have to hope that both Tyeler Davison is fully recovered and good to go and that second-year player David Onyemata is ready for more work.
Who takes over for Terron Armstead at left tackle?
Rookie Ryan Ramczyk looks to be the biggest beneficiary of Armstead’s absence, but he’ll still have to earn his way to get the starting nod. Both veterans Khalif Barnes and Bryce Harris should provide some competition early on, but the expectation would be that Ramczyk distances himself quickly. The Saints have been hit hard in the injury department before the start of camp (Max Unger, Armstead, Fairley), so needless to say they can’t afford anymore setbacks, especially on the offensive line.
What does the fourth and fifth receiver options look like?
Michael Thomas, Willie Snead, and Ted Ginn Jr. are arguably the top three options the Saints possess for their receiving corps in 2017, but then that’s where it may get a little hazy. Brandon Coleman likely gets the nod for the fourth spot, but his room for error is tiny. Corey Fuller had mixed practices during OTAs and minicamp, but could legitimately be in the conversation for a spot. However, you can’t overlook Jake Lampman and Jordan Williams-Lambert. And then there’s dark horse candidates like Tommylee Lewis, Rashad Lawrence, Justin Thomas, and Travin Dural. It’s an exciting battle that is sure to unfold, to say the least.
Will the secondary finally be improved?
It’s easy to get excited over the defense making plays during practice, but that’s been a very common theme from the past few years of training camp. Each season, we want to believe that the Saints are contenders defensively, but they’ve largely failed. Unfortunate injuries, particularly at cornerback, set the team back last season. The Saints did manage, but they still had plenty of pain points. This season’s battle features several competitors in the secondary with Delvin Breaux and rookie Marshon Lattimore expected to man the top corner spots, and then that’s where it gets funs.
P.J. Williams, Damian Swann, and Sterling Moore are early favorites for slot and backup spots, and then there’s returning second-year players Ken Crawley, De’Vante Harris, and practice squad back Taveze Calhoun in the mix. Minicamp standout Arthur Maulet may have the biggest buzz about him entering camp, and will need to keep making impact plays to warrant consideration for the final 53-man roster.
Which new addition will make the largest impact for the Saints?
So many are gushing over the addition of Adrian Peterson to the backfield, and rightfully so. However, Alvin Kamara is a real reason to get excited with his potential and skills. The Saints have many new faces in 2017 through a combination of free agents and rookies, with most of them being on the defensive side of the ball.
Dennis Allen’s defense needs answers in a big way at defensive end opposite of Cameron Jordan and adequate and stable linebackers in addition to their secondary concerns. Alex Okafor was a big recruit by safety Kenny Vaccaro, and his incentive-laden one-year deal hopes to help him cash in on a larger deal. Pass rushing and linebacking options are plentiful for the Saints on paper, and if the team is really serious about making a run, they’ll need a huge return from both of these key positions.
What’s your biggest question or concern as the Saints head to training camp?