Per ESPN’s Dianna Russini, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees #9 and running backs Adrian Peterson #28 and Mark Ingram #22 won’t play in this first preseason outing against the Cleveland Browns, but there’s still plenty to keep us entertained.
The Summer of Brandon Coleman
There was plenty of hand-wringing over Brandin Cooks’ trade to the New England Patriots and what may happen without him, but it looks like Brandon Coleman #16 has finally come along at wide receiver. Ted Ginn Jr will probably fill in for Cooks’ role in the offense as a speedy downfield threat, but Coleman seems to have already strengthened his case to make the roster as the team’s fourth wideout over other hopefuls like Corey Fuller #11, Travin Dural #14, and Tommylee Lewis #87.
Suddenly remembering that he’s 6-foot-6 with 34-inch arms, Coleman told the Times-Picayune’s Josh Katzenstein that he’s bulked up and entered the offseason training program at about 230-pounds. Now in a contract year, he’ll have to show he can continue making the highlight-reel plays he’s made a habit of in training camp. He was already a good perimeter blocker and chipped in the occasional catch, but maybe longtime receivers coach Curtis Johnson’s return has sparked something bigger in Coleman.
Just Enough Cornerbacks
Both of the projected starters at cornerback - Delvin Breaux #40 and Marshon Lattimore #23 - are out with injuries, again vaulting guys like P.J. Williams #36, Sterling Moore #24, and Ken Crawley #20 into starting positions. Going into training camp, the Saints were expected to keep just five or six cornerbacks on the opening-day roster and so far it’s been an intense competition. The injuries to Breaux and Lattimore open up more practice time for embattled young guns including De’Vante Harris #49, rookie Arthur Maulet #37, and Damian Swann #27, each of whom should get heavy looks against the Browns.
With so many players vying for so few spots, every practice rep and preseason snap matters a little more. The Browns don’t have a good collection of receivers, but it’ll be good to see how each of the Saints’ corners fare in live action against new opponents.
Taking the Trade Bait?
A player on the opposing defense to watch is Nate Orchard #44 (6-foot-4, 255-pounds, 33 3/4-inch arms). Just 24-years old, the former second-round pick had 18.5 sacks as a senior for the Utah Utes but has struggled to adapt to Gregg Williams’ convoluted defense, and looks confined to the third team unit in training camp. He’s just an average athlete, but Orchard had a promising rookie year with a number of flashes (three sacks, four pass deflections, an interception, and a forced fumble) on 472 plays before getting onto the field just 88 times last year.
The latest Browns regime has no ties to Orchard and might be open to trading him if the Saints see something they like. Dennis Allen’s defense needs all the pass rushers it can get, and Orchard might stand a better chance of making the Saints’ roster than competing with the likes of Myles Garrett #95, Jamie Collins #51, Emmanuel Ogbah #90, and Carl Nassib #94. He’s also cheap: per Michael Ginnitti of Spotrac.com, Orchard’s services would carry cap hits of just $841,028 in 2017 and $1,044,041 in 2018.
Gregg Williams Revenge Game?
This isn’t the first time the Saints have faced a Gregg Williams-coached defense in the preseason, but that last exhibition didn’t come off the heels of a 49-21 disembowelment. Saints head coach Sean Payton’s grudge with Gregg Williams’ selling out to a sham NFL investigation during the Bountygate scandal is well-documented, and it turned into a Willie Snead trick play to Tim Hightower to run up the score during last season’s blowout win. That has to hurt even someone as unscrupulous as Williams.
So don’t be shocked if Williams calls up every blitz and stunt he can design to get after the Saints’ quarterbacks and make things tough for the offense. Expect him to try out some new things with Heisman Trophy candidate Jabrill Peppers #22. They don’t win much in Ohio, so personal victories in August football games mean a lot. Pettiness wears a Touch of Gray-dyed goatee in Cleveland.