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Minicamp Report, May 12: I love Buckeyes QB J.T. Barrett

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The undrafted rookie looks like a pro.

METAIRIE, LA - New Orleans Saints quarterback J.T. Barrett (5) rehearses a handoff to tryout running back Josh Rounds (24) during rookie minicamp practices at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center.
METAIRIE, LA - New Orleans Saints quarterback J.T. Barrett (5) rehearses a handoff to tryout running back Josh Rounds (24) during rookie minicamp practices at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center.
Michael C. Hebert/NewOrleansSaints.com

The full list of players participating in this weekend’s events was first dropped by NFL.com’s Herbie Teope:

By all accounts it was a fun, productive practice.

Barrett, Smith make a strong first impression

The story of the day so far is the great initial look from former Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett. Picking up where he left off from the East-West Shrine Game practices, Barrett played oblivious to pressure even when a careening Marcus Davenport beat his blocker and came within inches of a would-be sack.

Barrett made several nice throws on the day, including big hits to former Western Kentucky tight end Deon Yelder and third-round pick Tre’Quan Smith out of UCF, a transitive National Champion. The Advocate’s Joel Erickson commented that Barrett didn’t miss a throw in the time practice was open to the media. Smith specifically had a strong day, redeeming Brandin Cooks’ #10 jersey and running some crisp routes in team sessions and isolated drills.

Look, it’s early. These practices mean very little in the big picture. Barrett could as easily be working at Foot Locker in six months as tearing up a bag of sunflower seeds on the sideline with Taysom Hill. But I’ve seen enough to know he’s a better asset than Tom Savage as the team’s fourth quarterback and I’m rooting for him to succeed.

Davenport: more pliable than we were led to believe

The highlight of that above video clip is Barrett’s tight spiral to hit Smith, who chops his feet to stay inbounds for the completion. But focus in on #92, the near-side edge defender: that’s Davenport working off the edge out of a three-point stance, and looking mighty fine at it. A common criticism for Davenport’s evaluation in college was his lack of bend and lower-body flexibility. Deemed too tall for his own good, many evaluators questioned whether he could get low enough to win at the next level.

A puzzlingly-rare correlation made here was Davenport’s deployment out of a stand-up, two-point stance. He wasn’t asked to get low from the jump, meaning all 6-foot-6 of him had to get down after his first step to beat his man. That’s a tall order, and the Saints are smartly training him out of a more-natural three-point stance with his hand in the dirt. This allows him to play more conventionally and get the natural bend you’d want to see - and it’s what we do see in that clip.

It’s encouraging, but we shouldn’t look too deeply into it. He’s only been with the team for two weeks and there’s a long summer ahead before the first real snaps are taken in a game. But between this and the quiet confidence Davenport shared in his post-practice interview, I’ve seen plenty to like about the young playmaker.

Sean Payton has plenty of thoughts

It turns out I’m not crazy to be an advocate for Barrett’s pro prospects after seeing his rookie minicamp highlights. Sean Payton spoke highly of the Buckeyes signal-caller, particularly his experience (Barrett appeared in 50 games over four years for Ohio State) to Josh Katzenstein of the Times-Picayune:

“There’s a leadership presence about him,” Payton said. “He’s a good athlete. He’s played a lot of competitive football. He’s handled this camp very well, so (he has) a lot of the things you look for in that position. He certainly was worthy of being drafted, and he’s done a good job here.”

When pressed about Mark Ingram’s suspension and ensuing absence, Payton admitted doubts to Joel Erickson from the Advocate on the suspension’s value and Ingram’s holdout:

“We spoke a couple times before the offseason program started. It is what it is, and he’ll know what to do. Now, do I think he should be here? Yeah. It goes under PEDs, and I know Mark well enough to know it wasn’t a performance-enhancing drug.

“It’s optional,” Payton said. “We’ll see him at the minicamp.”

Payton also joked about luring retired right tackle Zach Strief out of the parking lot as a spectator and into offering some pointers to the team’s rookie linemen like Rick Leonard and Will Clapp. Strief tried to get out, but they brought him back in.

You can find Payton’s full press conference by following this link.

The team’s third and final rookie minicamp session will kick off tomorrow, with full-team exercises just weeks away. Things are looking up!