NFL Team Report - New Orleans Saints - INSIDE SLANT
It isn't easy being Drew Brees.
When the New Orleans Saints dive into their first training camp practice July 25 at the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, Va., it will be the third consecutive year their prolific quarterback is missing one of his top targets from the previous season.
Most obvious MIA is multi-talented runner/receiver/returner Darren Sproles, who was traded away and is now a part of head coach Chip Kelly's offense in Philadelphia. Receivers Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson went in 2012 and 2013, respectively, while Lance Moore was also released this offseason.
Still Brees seems to find a way, as he did last year by guiding the offense to the fourth most yards in the league despite a running game that ranked No. 25.
The Saints actually ranked 25th in rushing the last two seasons, which they will try to fix this year with Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas as well as a pair of undrafted halfbacks -- Khiry Robinson and Travaris Cadet -- who'll try to fill the void left when they traded the speedy Sproles.
Robinson and Cadet turned some heads after making the roster the past two training camps and they will get a chance to add something to what Ingram and Thomas bring to the table. But until this group proves it can get the job done, it remains the weakest unit on the team.
The run game averaged only 3.8 yards per rush, which ranked 26th, and that was WITH Sproles.
While that drama plays itself out, here are some other items of interest for the Saints to consider as they prepare for camp:
PLAYER WITH MOST TO PROVE
--Mark Ingram, RB: Last month, the Saints declined to pick up the fifth-year option on Ingram's contract for 2015, so this will probably be a make-or-break season for the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner if he wants to remain with the club.
The Saints have been happy with Ingram and he has been productive when healthy, but he's missed 11 regular-season games and two playoff games with knee and turf toes issues in three seasons -- which is why they were probably reluctant to give him a little more than $5.1 million for 2015. That means Ingram, who has steadfastly insisted over the last month that he's not angry at team officials for not picking up the option on his rookie deal, will have to earn a big contract by producing on the field -- or probably hit the road.
KEY POSITION BATTLE
--Cornerback: The Saints are set at one cornerback with Keenan Lewis, their top free-agent pickup from 2013, but there will be competition to see who starts opposite him.
Former first-round draft pick Patrick Robinson, who played in just two games last season before tearing his patellar tendon, was working with the first-team defense ahead of Champ Bailey and third-year pro Corey White in OTAs.
Bailey is fully expected to win the job going into training camp with Robinson and White likely battling for the nickel cornerback spot. Rod Sweeting, who earned a roster spot as an undrafted free agent last summer, and second-round draft pick Stanley Jean-Baptiste could also be in the picture.
BEST LONGSHOT ROOKIE
--Ronald Powell, OLB, Florida, Round 5/169th overall: Powell, a fast, 6-foot-3, 237-pound athlete, was the nation's top recruit when he signed with Florida in 2010. But two ACL injuries in 2012 took the luster off his college career.
The Saints like his pass-rushing ability. Even though they appear set with Junior Galette and Victor Butler as probable starters on the outside and with veteran Parys Haralson likely filling a backup role, the Saints need an outside linebacker to groom for the future.
NFL Team Report - New Orleans Saints - NOTES, QUOTES
--The Saints wrapped up their offseason program with their final four days of organized team activities -- one of which was used on a paintball outing with the purpose of building team chemistry.
After the last workout, the Saints went their separate ways although most of them will continue to work out on their own over the next five weeks in preparation for the start of training camp on July 24.
Saints coach Sean Payton said that the players will report to their Metairie training facility on July 23 for a chartered flight to their new training camp site at The Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
The players will have their conditioning tests on July 24 and get on the practice field for the first time the next day. They will spend about three weeks in West Virginia, breaking camp on Aug. 14 -- the day before their second exhibition game.
--Because he couldn't work out with his new team this spring while classes were still in session at Oregon State, wide receiver Brandin Cooks spent the better part of this week trying to catch up.
Among other things the first-round draft pick had to do: introduce himself to quarterback Drew Brees after Cooks was only able to take part in a three-day rookie minicamp in mid-May.
On Thursday, Cooks spent several minutes after practice working with Brees, who'll also work one-on-one with him in San Diego over the next few weeks to help get him up to speed on the Saints' offense.
"I just saw Drew in a corner (of the locker room), and I didn't know whether to go up and shake his hand ... or wait for meetings," Cooks said after Thursday's OTA. "But you're a grown man, so you have to go to work."
--After losing outside linebacker Victor Butler to a knee injury in last year's OTAs, the Saints were relatively injury-free this offseason although three players were noticeably absent in the workouts open to media.
Butler tore his ACL last June, right before the team was scheduled to begin a five-week break before training camp and was out for the season.
This year, free safety Jairus Byrd (back), wide receiver Joe Morgan (knee) and nose tackle John Jenkins (torn pectoral muscle) all missed OTAs and full-squad minicamp while rehabbing. But all should be ready to go by training camp.
--When training camp begins in late July, the Saints hope to have a competitive kicking duel between veteran Shayne Graham and first-year pro Derek Dimke.
Graham was signed late last season when Garrett Hartley was released and was re-signed to a one-year contract in February. Dimke, who had a tryout with the Saints at midseason when Hartley initially struggled, was signed to a futures contract in January.
On the last day of offseason workouts, both kickers were given opportunities from 33, 39 and 45 yards out. Dimke made all three of his kicks, but Graham sandwiched makes around a wide-right miss from 39 yards.
NFL Team Report - New Orleans Saints - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
A closer look at the Saints' picks:
Round 1/20 -- Brandin Cooks, WR, 5-10, 189, Oregon State
--After trading Darren Sproles, the Saints needed to replace his speed and they did in choosing Cooks after moving up seven spots in the first round.
Round 2/58 -- Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, 6-3, 218, Nebraska
--With giant receivers throughout the NFC South, the Saints had to combat that with a longer, physical corner to put opposite Keenan Lewis.
Round 4/126 -- Khairi Fortt, ILB, 6-2, 240, California
--Saints elect to go for power (30 bench reps) and speed (4.70) here despite limited college experience with just 10 starts at Penn State and Cal.
Round 5/167 -- Vinnie Sunseri, SS, 5-11, 210, Alabama
--Even though he's coming off a torn ACL, he could be a help on special teams and add depth at one of the safety spots in a crowded secondary.
Round 5/169 -- Ronald Powell, OLB, 6-3, 237, Florida
--Returned to field in 2013 after pair of ACL surgeries in 2012, but is valued for his pass-rush abilities and measurables.
Round 6/202 -- Tavon Rooks, T, 6-5, 299, Kansas State
--Athletic tackle started 23 games the last two seasons after bouncing around three junior colleges and was an intriguing pick for Saints.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: TE Jimmy Graham (tendered at $7.035M).
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--DE Kenyon Coleman (not tendered as UFA).
--LB Will Herring (not tendered as UFA).
--S Jordan Pugh (not tendered as UFA).
--LB Jonathan Vilma (not tendered as UFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED
--WR Brandin Cooks (1/20): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste (2/58): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Khari Fortt (4/126): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--S Vinnie Sunseri (5/167): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Ronald Powell (5/169): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--T Tavon Rooks (6/202): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--S Rafael Bush: RFA tendered at $1.431M with no compensation; Saints matched Falcons offer; $3.8M/2 yrs, $850,000 guaranteed.
--LB Keyunta Dawson: Potential UFA; $855,000/1 yr.
--K Shayne Graham: Potential UFA; $955,000/1 yr.
--LB Parys Haralson: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--T Bryce Harris: Potential ERFA; $570,000/1 yr.
--LB Ramon Humber: UFA; $795,000/1 yr, $65,000 SB.
--QB Luke McCown: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--WR Robert Meachem: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--WR Joseph Morgan: Not tendered as RFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--T Zach Strief: UFA; 5 yrs, terms unknown.
--CB Trevin Wade: Potential ERFA; $570,000/1 yr.
--CB Champ Bailey: FA Broncos; $3.75M/2 yrs, $500,000 SB.
--S Jairus Byrd: UFA Bills; $54M/6 yrs, $11M SB/$27.9M guaranteed.
--DT Brandon Deaderick: Not tendered as UFA by Jaguars; terms unknown.
--C Jonathan Goodwin: Not tendered as UFA by 49ers; terms unknown.
--FB Erik Lorig: UFA Buccaneers; 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Cheta Ozougwa: FA; terms unknown.
--T Thomas Welch: Not tendered as RFA by Bills; terms unknown.
--T Charles Brown: UFA Giants; terms unknown.
--FB Jed Collins: Not tendered as RFA/Lions; terms unknown.
--C Brian de la Puente: UFA Bears; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--CB Jabari Greer (released, failed physical).
--S Roman Harper (released).
--S Malcolm Jenkins: UFA Eagles; $15.5M/3 yrs, $8.5M guaranteed.
--DE Tom Johnson: Not tendered as RFA/Vikings; $845,000/1 yr.
--WR Lance Moore (released).
--DE Will Smith (released, failed physical).
--RB Darren Sproles (traded Eagles).