The New Orleans Saints participated in their first padded practice of the 2020 season on Monday. Shortly afterwards, Saints quarterback Drew Brees spoke with the media for the first time since the team has begun training camp.
Among the topics covered was Washington quarterback Alex Smith’s recovery, as well as some new additions to the offense. The additions of wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, interior offensive lineman Cesar Ruiz, and wide receiver Bennie Fowler were heavily discussed.
Brees and Sanders were seen working out together in Colorado over the offseason, and now that training camp has started they are relishing the opportunity to work together every single day as they continue to build chemistry heading into the season. When asked by John DeShazier about the continued development with Sanders, Brees focused on Sanders’s veteran mindset and skill set:
“I’m really excited to have Emannuel. I think he’s gonna add a great element to what we do. He’s another weapon, he’s got a great skill set and I feel like everyday we continue to get on the same page.”
Equally important is New Orleans’ addition of rookie interior offensive lineman Cesar Ruiz who was drafted using the team’s first-round pick of the 2020 NFL Draft. He will join the already youthful offensive line with Erik McCoy entering his second year. Both Ruiz and McCoy will alternate getting reps at the center and guard positions until the team decides who will take over full-time.
With the center and guard positions being some of the most vital on the field there has been hesitancy heading into the season due to the relative inexperience along the interior. Brees helped quell any concerns early on when asked about his first impressions of Ruiz:
“He comes across as a really sharp, smart football player. A guy that is not fazed by the speed or strength on the other side of the ball. He’s got a great skill set. Listen, coming from the Big 10 you see a lot of O-linemen coming out of the Big 10 they have had to play against some pretty stiff competition.
“I sense a level of maturity from him, especially for being such a young guy. He’s not afraid of the challenge, not afraid to work and so we will see how that plays out, but I’ve been impressed with him.”
Finally, the addition of the veteran Bennie Fowler has flown relatively under the radar. Fowler joined the Saints after spending the last two seasons with the New York Giants and came highly recommended by Brees. Fowler spent some of the offseason working with Brees and Sanders in Colorado before signing with the team. The WR1 and WR2 positions are a near lock with Michael Thomas and Sanders holding those two down, but beyond that there are more question marks.
Tre’Quan Smith could fill the WR3 role if he finally has his breakout season in 2020. Ty Montgomery is a versatile player that could also compete for the job while helping out at the running back position. However, Fowler’s veteran presence and willingness to put the team first may play to his advantage in making the team.
Brees spoke at length when asked what stood out about Fowler when training with the receiver during the offseason:
“Veteran. Mature. Obviously his size and physical skills are unique for a receiver. Bennie is about 6’1” to 6’2” over 200 pounds so he is big, strong, powerful. The way he ran routes, you can tell there was a veteran nature to an understanding of concepts, of how to get open, what to do at the top of the route, how to get separation. Just some of the little things that typically take younger receivers a while to learn and understand at this level.”
While it remains relatively early in training camp the reality is that competitive football starts in three weeks. New Orleans will start to shave its roster down to the required 53 men. With the additions of Sanders and Ruiz the offense is likely to become that much more efficient. However, the real strength of the team will likely depend on the value at the margins. Veteran players like Fowler could make all the difference in year where it’s Super Bowl or bust.