We’re several days into New Orleans Saints training camp, which has been just about everything everyone has expected and then some thus far. Fans were able to get their first glimpse of the team on Saturday, and it was also the day where the pads came on. While the anticipation will only continue to build for this team leading up to the regular season, it sure does feel like team’s first preseason game on Aug. 9 when they travel to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars will be here in no time.
Here’s a comprehensive A-to-Z look at Saints training camp with some of the most interesting players, storylines, positional battles, and topics to watch out for throughout the month of August.
A is for Al-Quadin Muhammad. The second-year Miami Hurricanes product is looking to make his mark in what appears to be a crowded and talented depth chart at defensive end. Last year’s sixth-round pick spent most of the season as a game day inactive, but is someone to keep an eye on for how he’s grown and developed.
B is for Benjamin Watson. Moving on from Coby Fleener was something that had to happen, especially given the concussion history. Watson enters the fold as someone who gives the Saints a big upgrade at tight end, even at 37 years old. If the team can get similar 2015 production out of Watson and have ‘playoff’ Josh Hill, then the Saints offense could be downright scarier than anyone might imagine.
C is for Coaching. Sean Payton went from being a head coach who fans and the media called for his head to being praised for his cockiness and pettiness en route to getting the Saints back into the postseason. It’s the very thing fans loved about him when the team was winning. After getting rid of his familiar support system, the additions of Mike Nolan, Ryan Nielsen have only helped being paired up with Dan Campbell, Aaron Glenn, and Brad Banta. Other presences like Mike Westhoff and Peter Giunta have been quietly solid moves for New Orleans.
D is for Defense. You could rope in Demario Davis and Dennis Allen into this easily, but the main focus is the Saints defense. Once heralded as the league’s laughing stock on a regular basis, New Orleans saw a tremendous turnaround in 2017. They’ve only improved by adding UTSA’s Marcus Davenport to the pass rushing mix, bringing back a familiar face in Patrick Robinson to help the secondary, taking a NFC South rival in Kurt Coleman, and adding Davis. This should be a defense that has high expectations.
E is for Trey Edmunds. He was one of the standouts from training camp last season, as his hard work earned him a spot on the team’s roster. Edmunds appeared in all 16 games for New Orleans last season, primarily on special teams. Someone needs to step up to the plate because of the Mark Ingram four-game suspension, and there’s some consideration to throw at Edmunds.
F is for Fan Fest. This is a great experience when you make it out to practice. These include fan activities (Play Football stations), especially those geared towards kids, concession offerings, merchandise booths, giveaways, video games, former players, and much more. Fan fest at Tulane’s Yulman Stadium on the night of Aug. 5 will feature live music in addition to free practice. It’s also a great chance to score some autographs from your favorite players.
G is for Growth. The Saints defensive interior line is banking on some major growth from David Onyemata and Tyeler Davison (who is facing a contract year). The Saints definitely looked at improving at defensive tackle by eyeing free agents Ndamukong Suh and Muhammad Wilkerson, but didn’t land either player. Look for these two to continue to rotate alongside Sheldon Rankins.
H is for Hau’oli Kikaha. It’s a contract year for the team’s 2015 second-rounder, whose Saints career has been plagued mainly by injuries. With a reassurance of being totally healthy and good to go this season, Kikaha is working not only as a pass rusher for Dennis Allen’s defense, but is being asked to work as a strong side linebacker. Kikaha was the subject of trade talk ahead of last year’s trade deadline, and would appear to be fighting for a roster spot now.
I is for Mark Ingram. It’s not ideal to see Ingram out of action for the first four games of the season due to a suspension, but he’s been present for training camp activities and is certainly looking to come back in full force. Ingram needs 735 yards in what will be a shortened season to become the Saints all-time leading rusher, and has the full blessing of the current owner of the record, Deuce McAllister.
J is for J.T. Barrett. While the backup quarterback situation is likely between Taysom Hill and Tom Savage, it’ll be interesting to see Barrett’s progression throughout training camp. Barrett has had some very flashy moments and less than ideal ones. Barrett could be a priority practice squad player when it’s all said and done, but we know that the Ohio State pipeline for New Orleans is a real thing.
K is for Ken Crawley. It would appear the Saints have a vote of confidence on Crawley as their second cornerback, and he’s been pretty adamant about getting better. He was a key piece of the Saints defensive turnaround, and should be in store for another successful campaign.
L is for Landon Turner . He’s one of the many offensive linemen looking to take Senio Kelemete’s spot on the team as the sixth man, but he’ll have his work cut out for him battling against John Fullington (who has been on first-team reps in place of Andrus Peat), Cameron Tom, Will Clapp, and Rick Leonard, to name a few. The former undrafted rookie appeared in six games for the Saints in 2016, but spent 2017 on the practice squad.
M is for Michael Thomas. “Can’t Guard Mike” enters his third season with New Orleans, and he’s only looking to get better. Like Marcus Williams, he spent some time in the gym and is looking in great shape. Anyone that has Thomas outside of their Top 5 wideouts this season might have to reconsider with another imminent high-producing season looming from Thomas.
N is for New Orleans. While training camp is technically held in Metairie, it is considered part of the New Orleans Metropolitan Area, housing well over one million residents. Great food, good people, the many sights and sounds, and the hospitality of the locals make this a must-visit area for any person considering a road trip to see their team — even if you are a Falcons fan.
O is for Ochsner Sports Performance Center. It’s the team’s 77,504 square-foot practice facility that houses the Saints and Pelicans. Tremendous improvements have been made inside for the players, and dedicated fan experiences outside sure make it a great place to watch the team practice.
P is for P.J. Williams. The former 2015 third-round pick is included in those facing a contract year, and is also considered a roster bubble player this season. Williams will need to put together a strong training camp and preseason to crack the 2018 squad.
Q is for quarterback Drew Brees . He needs little to no introduction around the NFL, and enters his 19th season in the league. Brees is the focal point of the Saints offense, and success will continue to rely on his shoulders. The good news is that he continues proving that age is just a number.
R is for Ryan Ramczyk. Remember when virtually everyone sandbagged and hated on the team’s 32nd overall pick last year? Man, were they wrong. Ramczyk was thrown into the mix immediately for the Saints, and that was all she wrote. He had a stellar season for New Orleans, and should continue being a main staple at right tackle for years to come.
S is for special teams. Wil Lutz was expected to have some drop off last season, but it never happened. He continues to be an underrated strength for the Saints, and is quickly rising as one of the league’s better kickers. Thomas Morstead enters his 9th season for the Saints, and continues to be a top punter in the league. Don’t think about challenging him in a pull-up contest either. The biggest thing to watch here is the makeup of the kickoff team and its returners, as the league changed the rules up a bit.
T is for Tom Benson. The unfortunate passing of the longstanding Saints owner in March came as a surprise to many, but the ‘Keys to the Kingdom’ seem to be in good hands with his wife Gayle Benson. It’s a different feeling not seeing Benson there in his customary form via a golf cart, but his professional legacy lives on with the team playing for him this year.
U is for Max Unger. The retirement of Zach Strief officially put Unger in the spotlight as a leader. He’s received a unanimous vote of confidence from Strief and others, and don’t let his bogus Madden 19 rating fool you, Unger is pretty good at football as the team’s center.
V is for veteran running backs. After being added late to the training camp roster, Terrance West and Shane Vereen are cherishing an opportunity to crack the 53-man roster. Vereen is more of the versatile presence, while West is more in between the tackles and the physical back. The Saints have to have someone emerge to help Alvin Kamara with the workload while Mark Ingram is suspended the first four games, and either of these backs could do it.
W is for the wide receiver battle. Michael Thomas, Cameron Meredith, and Ted Ginn Jr. would appear to be the team’s top receiving threats entering the 2018 campaign. Outside of that, the battle mainly includes rookie Tre’Quan Smith, Tommylee Lewis, Brandon Coleman, and Austin Carr. Naturally, there’s others like Keith Kirkwood, Dan Arnold, Eldridge Massington, and Josh Huff looking to make their mark as well. Whether or not the Saints ultimately decide to roll with five or six receivers will be something to watch here.
X is for Alex. Maybe it’s cheating (X receiver for Michael Thomas was too easy). However, both Alex Anzalone and Alex Okafor look to bounce back after seeing their seasons end prematurely. Anzalone was promising as the team’s weak side linebacker, and was certainly showing off some speed that the Saints defense had been desperately craving. Okafor was a strong bookend opposite of Cam Jordan, having success in both run defense and pass rushing. New Orleans could absolutely use both of them at 100 percent.
Y is for youth. It’s crazy to think how much of a young, strong nucleus the Saints have on their hands. Over the past several drafts, New Orleans has gained the likes of Andrus Peat, Michael Thomas, Vonn Bell, Sheldon Rankins, David Onyemata, Marshon Lattimore, Ryan Ramczyk, Alvin Kamara, Marcus Williams, Alex Anzalone, and Trey Hendrickson. That’s also not including undrafted talent like Ken Crawley, Justin Hardee, and Cameron Tom. This year’s draft class is shaping up to be special, yet again.
Z is for Zach Line. After some rumors swirled around the Saints seeking a reunion with John Kuhn, the team went back to their main man at fullback in 2017. Line played in 12 games for New Orleans, and was quite an underrated presence for a very strong rushing attack. He should continue to build upon a strong season. Don’t forget about that Zach Wood fellow either, the team’s long snapper.