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The Fleur-De-Lis Report: Offseason, Training Camp, and Breakdown of Preseason Week 1

3 months 2 weeks 2 days ago Sunday, August 14 2022 Aug 14, 2022 August 14, 2022 10:17 AM August 14, 2022 in News
Source: WBRZ

It’s a brand new era for the New Orleans Saints. For the first time in 17 years, the team will go to battle without both its future Hall of Fame quarterback and Super Bowl winning head coach. Last season was quite the adjustment moving on from Drew Brees. The team faced a multitude of injuries and a revolving door of starting quarterbacks. Despite the adversity, Coach Sean Payton guided his team to a 9-8 record, but fell just short of the postseason. Payton decided to retire after the season, opening the door for new Head Coach Dennis Allen. 

Allen has done more than enough to earn the job. He helped construct and operate a formidable Saints defense over the last several seasons in conjunction with a team that has consistently bolstered one of the more prominent offenses in the NFL. One of the biggest question marks surrounding the Saints going into the new season is how will the team respond under Allen’s leadership, especially when you consider his fairly unsuccessful first head coaching job with the Raiders from 2012 to 2014. It remains to be seen if he will have more success this time around with a Saints team that is light years ahead of that old Raiders squad. 

THE OFF-SEASON

The Saints had arguably one of the most influential off-seasons since 2006.

Major key pieces are returning to the field such as quarterback Jameis Winston who suffered a torn ACL last October. The team flirted with the idea of acquiring embattled quarterback Deshaun Watson but instead opted to stick with Winston after Watson was traded to Cleveland. That offered the opportunity to sign important free agents like former LSU standouts Tyrann Mathieu and Jarvis Landry. Star wide receiver Michael Thomas is also back from injury and last time we saw him fully healthy, he racked up a league record 149 receptions and was named Offensive Player of the Year.

Saints fans can also be proud of the way the team drafted this year, selecting talented Ohio State wide receiver Chris Olave and Northern Iowa offensive lineman Trevor Penning in the first round. Olave joins a loaded receiver corps that last year seemed like a glaring weakness. Penning was a big team need following the departure of All Pro tackle Terron Armstead, who signed with the Dolphins. 

Other key departures from the team included safety Marcus Williams to the Ravens and Malcolm Jenkins lost to retirement. 

TRAINING CAMP

To call this year’s training camp highly competitive is a big understatement. The stars shined as usual while some of the guys who aren’t guaranteed locks worked hard to make a name for themselves.

To start, Jameis Winston will lead the quarterback room as QB1. Winston has worked very hard to fight back and return to action. He displayed consistency throughout training camp before suffering a minor setback this past week. Dennis Allen confirmed he sprained his right foot and is considered ‘day-to-day’ for now. While he was out there, he had no issues connecting on the deep ball and overall kept the ball out of harm's way. He connected on 40 of 60 passes during team drills with rookie Chris Olave already becoming one of his favorite targets. His backup, Andy Dalton, has looked really strong throughout camp, finishing 38 of 57 on his passes. Dalton has spent the vast majority of his career as a competent starter and all indications point to the Saints being in good hands if Winston is forced to miss time. Second year QB, Ian Book, also showed slight signs of improvement and the team recently added depth by signing former Mississippi State QB KJ Costello. 

Michael Thomas is back like he never left...making strong, physical, and contested catches. He gained an increasing amount of targets throughout camp and will be expected to take up the leadership role within this new receiver room. Jarvis Landry showed how precise route running and elite hands can be a valuable asset while Chris Olave flashed serious potential with his speed, silky smooth release, and ability to attack the open zone. 

Alvin Kamara’s on-going legal situation stemming from a Felony Battery charge during last year’s Pro Bowl is still up in the air. His next court hearing will be after week 3 of the regular season on September 29th, followed by a trial. Sources say he most likely will face suspension the following season instead of this year. As it currently stands, he is the most dynamic player on the team and that showed in camp. Something to note was his crisp route running from the backfield and elusiveness. Mark Ingram is listed as second on the depth chart and even though he remains as the heart and soul of the club, he is an aging player. The Saints are still looking for that guy to step up as a factor coming out of the backfield. Devine Ozigbo, Dwayne Washington, Tony Jones Jr., and undrafted rookie Abram Smith are all names to watch out for this preseason.

Taysom Hill has been a man of many roles during his time with the Saints but Dennis Allen made it a point to focus his supreme athleticism and physicality at the tight end position. Hill shined in his new role, especially in the red zone. But don’t worry Saints fans...Allen confirmed that Hill will continue his Swiss army knife persona within the offense from the quarterback position. It’s worth noting how he helps the tight end room understand certain expectations from a quarterback’s perspective. Tied with him on the depth chart is third year player Adam Trautman. The former Dayton tight end impressed coaches during camp but will be expected to take his game to the next level. Other guys like Nick Vannett and Juwan Johnson give this group lots of upside in my opinion and it will be interesting to see how this position shapes out this season.

Terron Armstead’s departure was a significant blow to the offensive line but there’s still a lot to love about this group. Ryan Ramczyk is still one of the best right tackles in football and the O-line benefits from having several guys who've been in the system for some time now. Erik McCoy and Andrus Peat are some names that immediately come to mind. Caesar Ruiz made the change to guard after spending time playing center but I believe a lot more will be asked of him this season. Rookie Trevor Penning stood out big time and one of the best things about him is his tenacious attitude. Coaches had to tell him to dial it back a few times after a few altercations with teammates. Sources say all his scuffles came on plays where he won the rep against veteran guys and played through the whistle. As of now, the rookie sits behind veteran James Hurst but I fully expect Penning to become a starter a few weeks into the regular season. 

Part of the reason the club was still able to achieve a winning season last year was due to their stifling defense and believe it or not, I think this unit is even scarier. The biggest strength is the secondary. Tyrann Mathieu is simply elite and what a joy it is to have him back in Louisiana representing the Black and Gold. He spent some time away from the team early in camp for personal reasons but once he returned, his playmaking ability was on full display. Intangibly, he provides a strong locker room presence and voice. Paired with Marcus Maye, this safety duo adds a lot of versatility, not present in last season’s duo, capable of playing inside the box or deep in coverage. Marshon Lattimore was a bit banged up these last few days dealing with a hamstring injury but when healthy he’s one of the premiere cornerbacks in the NFL. Opposite of him, 2021 third round draft pick, Paulson Adebo really solidified himself as the CB2 for this team. He arguably made the most visible leap from last season, often going toe-to-toe with Michael Thomas in camp. And with guys like CJ Gardner-Johnson, Bradley Roby, PJ Williams and the impressive play of rookie second rounder Alontae Taylor, this unit has some real potential to be one of the best, if not the best secondaries in the league.

Defensive end Cameron Jordan has been the most consistent player on the defense for the better part of a decade. Helping him out on the defensive line are guys like veteran defensive tackle David Onyemata, Carl Granderson,Tanoh Kpassagnon, former first rounder Taco Charleton, and last year’s first round pick, Payton Turner. Turner didn’t play much last season due to injury. This year, he’ll essentially be a third 1st rounder in the rotation. Marcus Davenport returned to practice earlier this week after having his pinky finger amputated. He was limited to individual walkthrough drills and while he says he’s still working to get into game shape, he believes his rehab is going in the right direction.

The weakest position on defense is the linebacker corp which isn’t saying much because Demario Davis has remained one of the best inside linebackers in the league. Riding shotgun with him is second year player Pete Werner. Werner has shown flashes of potential during camp, playing with great instincts and anticipation, especially against the rush. His pass coverage skills are also showing signs of improvement as he steps into the weak side linebacker role. Beyond the starters, this group lacks depth and quite frankly talent. Veteran Kiko Alonso signed with the team last week before abruptly retiring. Zach Baun hasn’t shown much during practices and rookie fifth rounder D’Marco Jackson was placed on IR earlier this week. I don’t anticipate this being a problem however because where the team lacks depth at linebacker, it makes up for it with the versatility of the safeties. And with how deep the safety room is, there would be no shortage of guys to fill those roles in the backfield.  

Lastly, the unsung hero of training camp has to be kicker Wil Lutz. Injury shut down his season last year and the team desperately missed him. He finished out training camp 31 of 32 including hitting multiple field goals of 50 yards or more. You don’t know the value of a kicker until you don’t have one and Lutz provides the Saints with one of the best in the business. Blake Gillikin added a lot of value from the punter position last year. He played an integral part in that week 15 win over the Buccaneers. 29 of his 83 punts landed inside the 20 yard line, with only 4 touchbacks all season. Gillikin may not be the most impactful Saint on the roster but naturally remains one of the more underrated.

PRESEASON OPENER AGAINST THE TEXANS

The preseason opener wasn’t the prettiest game to watch. The Saints fell short in a nip and tuck ball game that saw both offenses struggle throughout. Several key starters did not suit up. Jameis Winston sat out as he continues to recover from his sprained right foot. Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, and Jarvis Landry also watched from the sidelines. Defensively, stars Cam Jordan, Tyrann Mathieu, and Demario Davis also didn’t play. 

New Orleans first team got off to a terrific start. The defense forced a few three and outs early and QB Andy Dalton went a perfect 5 of 5 for 51 yards and a touchdown during the team’s opening drive. Dalton looked extremely comfortable in Pete Carmichael’s offense. 

Ian Book took over after Dalton and that’s when things started to get a bit shaky. He sailed a throw high resulting in an interception and on his next possession, a bad snap led to a fumble recovered by Houston. Book had a hard time finding a consistent rhythm and the offense was often forced to punt the ball away. He went 15 of 22 for 121 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception.

The running back battle started to take shape throughout the game with Dwayne Washington, Tony Jones Jr., Devine Ozigbo, and Abram Smith all getting reps. Tony Jones Jr. looked the most explosive to me. He finished the game with 7 carries for 27 yards. Abram Smith finished with the most yards out of all runners with 30 but fumbled near the goal line late in the game. I think despite the turnover, Smith has earned more reps going into week 2. He impressed me with his burst and ability to catch out the backfield. Hopefully he keeps his head up because this competition is far from over.

Rookie WR Chris Olave caught his only target, a pass from Ian Book for 4 yards. OL Trevor Penning had some up and down moments during the game, including giving up a sack in the 2nd quarter. He certainly has his work cut out for him but the potential is there.

The defense looked very solid, forcing 3 interceptions and 6 punts. Linebacker Chase Hansen looked like a star, logging 6 total tackles (2 TFLs), an interception, and a pass breakup. He was explosive getting in the backfield, blowing up the play on multiple occasions. Despite the stellar performance for the majority of the game, a busted coverage led to the Texans scoring a late game touchdown to escape with a 17-13 victory.

The biggest takeaway from this game is the Saints defense under Dennis Allen is elite. Even with many of the main guys not playing, the group looked fast, aggressive, and made several big plays.

The game also confirmed what training camp already told us; Andy Dalton is a very good option should Jameis Winston miss any time. Ian Book didn’t have his best game but he’ll get more opportunities next week.

Looking ahead, the team travels to Green Bay for joint practice sessions with the Packers ahead of their preseason week 2 matchup in 5 days. The team is 9 days away from cutting down the current 90 players to 80 active roster spots by August 23rd at 4pm. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Football is back! And while it’s just preseason, this is a time for many guys to prove why they deserve to be a part of the final roster. This team is solid in all three phases of the game with talent and upside all across the board. If they can stay relatively healthy and build continuity throughout the season, I can see the Saints being a serious threat within the division and maybe even the entire NFC. 

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Follow the publisher of this post on Twitter @Chris_Lunkin98 for weekly content and up to the minute updates on your New Orleans Saints. 

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