We are two weeks away from the Saints rookies reporting for training camp, while the veterans will be in next week. New Orleans is set to break its practice schedule soon, and we remain focused on what to expect as we get closer. The team will have quite a few position battles in training camp, but who are the hottest?
This will be a huge focal point as the team’s offense looks to rebound from a very disappointing season. Naturally, a big part of the problem was wide receiver talent. The absence of Michael Thomas definitely hurt a lot, to say the least, and the Saints didn’t get much production from others they relied on.
In the offseason, New Orleans upgraded in a big way, using one of their first-round picks to get Chris Olave and then later signing Jarvis Landry to a very friendly one-year deal. That’s not the only good news, as Michael Thomas is expected to return. He fired things up the other day with an Instagram post of him running routes.
However, the competition centers around the other three spots on the depth chart. Of course, that assumes the team carries six wide receivers. Tre’Quan Smith, Deonte Harty and Marquez Callaway are certainly the favorites for those roster spots, while players like Kevin White, Kirk Merritt, Easop Winston Jr. and Kawaan Baker have a lot of work to do.
Rookies Dai’Jean Dixon and Rashid Shahid certainly show promise, especially as practice players, but we have yet to see Shahid as he is coming off an ACL injury. That should change entering training camp.
Perhaps the best news for all of these receivers is the fact that there will be no quarterback battle this season and the Jameis Winston show will be able to take shape.
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New Orleans was in a bit of a bind, losing two starters this offseason in Marcus Williams (Ravens) and Malcolm Jenkins (retired). However, they will receive some strong reinforcements to ensure they continue. Tyrann Mathieu and Marcus Maye will certainly go in as the favorites to start, and the battle behind them is the most intriguing.
Maye will potentially face league discipline due to an offseason DUI arrest starting in February 2021, so that’s at least three games someone could start in his place. Behind the two veterans, the Saints have veterans of their own in PJ Williams and Daniel Sorensen. Sorensen is more in the Jeff Heath role from a season ago and is a major presence on special teams.
CJ Gardner-Johnson comes in as the team’s undisputed player, while Justin Evans looks to revive his career after returning to football. It shouldn’t be forgotten that JT Gray excelled as an All-Pro on special teams, while Bryce Thompson was one of the most impressive Saints out of OTAs and minicamp. Rookie Smoke Monday is one to keep an eye on as he has soaked up everything from a very deep secondary.
The final parts will be very interesting at this place.
The only thing we can say for sure is that Ryan Ramczyk will be in right tackle and Erik McCoy will be in center. The left tackle is up for grabs, with James Hurst the favorite, although he will face stiff competition from rookie Trevor Penning. Not that the guard tandem of Andrus Peat and Cesar Ruiz won’t be what the team starts the year with, but they’ll need to stay solid and hold off some others.
Calvin Throckmorton started 14 games at left guard for the team due to injuries last year, and he’s getting plenty of work at right guard in the early stages of OTAs and minicamp. He is a guy who can push the other two players in any position. At worst, he’ll be an important backup to Peat.
Forrest Lamp, Josh Andrews, Lewis Kidd and Ethan Greenidge are some of the players to watch on the interior, while Landon Young, Sage Doxtater and Lewis Kidd are the ones to watch on the tackles. Kidd and Greenidge worked both tackle and guard. Others looking to make their mark include Gerald Hawkins, Derek Schweiger and Khaliq Washington.
Monitoring stocks in other positions
- Defensive technique – David Onyemata and Shai Tuttle enter as starters, and the Saints have veterans Jahlil Johnson and Kentavious Street looking to push their way into at least the primary reserves. Albert Huggins and Malcolm Roach return, while rookies Jordan Jackson and Josh Black look to move up the depth chart.
- Defensive end – The top two spots should go to Cam Jordan and Marcus Davenport, and Tanoh Kpassagnon was someone the team used in three-man rush packages last year. New Orleans should get Peyton Turner back for camp, who announced he passed his medical last week. Carl Granderson and Taco Charlton will also compete, and it’s particularly interesting that Dennis Allen singled out Granderson as someone who had a really strong showing early on. Charlton is probably the odd man out right now, but the battle in the rotation alone will be one to watch. We’ll also have to see if Davenport actually returns to start camp.
- Tight end – We’re not sure if Taysom Hill will be ready to start training camp, but he’s expected to be heavily involved with the group this season. Hill has been in the rehab facility, so we’ll have to wait and see if and when he takes the field. Adam Trautman, Nick Vannett and Juwan Johnson are the top candidates for the position along with Hill, and undrafted rookie Lucas Krull has been one particular player who has had a strong start to OTAs and minicamp. JP Holtz and Brandon Dillon are the other two competing and seem to have an uphill battle.
- Running back – Alvin Kamara is the starter until he comes off possible league discipline, while Mark Ingram steps in as the primary backup. Behind them, things get fun. The third spot is up for grabs, with Tony Jones Jr., Dwayne Washington, Devin Ozigbo and rookie Abram Smith in the mix. Each will need to provide some special-teams value, and don’t rule out the Saints trying to add a veteran at some point before or during camp.
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