White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. —
Quarterback: Drew Brees
Breaking news! Brees is pretty darn swell at quarterback. I know it’s expected from him, but Brees seems sharper at this point in training camp than maybe he has been in the past couple of years. He’s on point with just about every throw and there hasn’t been occasional rough practice from the former Super Bowl MVP — despite his difficulties in the quarterback challenges.
Running back: Khiry Robinson
It’s not necessarily the running or receiving from Robinson that’s opening my eyes again. He’s the toughest runner on the team and proved late last season that he can be trusted to catch ball out of the backfield. Rather, it’s something not as noticeable, yet very important for a back wanting to find more playing time: Robinson’s blitz-pickup skills — recognition, reaction and execution — have been impressive.
One block in particular a few days ago stands out. He cracked Kenny Vaccaro on a blitz as the safety headed toward Brees. That showed Robinson is catching on in that aspect.
Wide receiver/tight end: Nick Toon
Is this the year he breaks into a more established role in the offense? So far, signs are pointing to yes. He has consistently come up with catches on nearly every pass pattern during training camp through the first five days. Deep balls, intermediate routes and short routes have all been successful for Toon.
I can’t help but look back at last year’s struggles in the loss to the Jets and how Sean Payton used him sparingly in the offense in 2013 and think Toon has to really show something this camp for me to jump back aboard the Toon bandwagon. Toon is making plays on a much more consistent basis this offseason than I anticipated. If there’s room left on the wagon, I’m may be asking to hop on pretty soon.
Offensive line:Jahri Evans
I know, another big surprise, right? Not as much as you may think. Evans isn’t shy about admitting he fought through injuries last season and didn’t play up to his standards despite making another Pro Bowl. But Evans is healthy again and pounding defensive linemen like he had in previous seasons before 2013.
Evans’ return to form is a major factor for this offensive line to improve in run and pass protection in 2014. Evans has done that in this five-day snapshot of training camp.
Defensive line: Junior Galette
“The Beard” is yelling, screaming and smiling every practice. He has reason to be fired up as the defensive end/linebacker (depends on the day) continues to become a more complete football player and major disruption. We know by now he can rush the passer. That’s been on display again this camp as he’s tallied a few (non-contact) sacks on Brees in team drills. He also displays his improved technique in the run game as well, which defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is quick to laud.
Linebacker: Victor Butler and Parys Haralson
Both have successfully returned from injuries (Butler knee, Haralson pectoral) and exchanged practice reps with the first team throughout the early portion of practice. It’s been a little more difficult to evaluate two players on a consistent basis since the Saints have still played a lot of 4-2-5 formations.
The fact both are moving full blast and actually participating for the first time in a full training camp with the Saints is a plus. I’m curious to watch how these two react in game situations starting Aug. 8 in St. Louis.
Secondary: Champ Bailey
The veteran cornerback has certainly become a hot topic. MMQB.com’s Greg Bedard penned a not so complimentary evaluation on Bailey after watching him on the practice field and even stated it wouldn’t surprise him if the Saints cut Bailey.
Here’s my take: I think Bailey has look more good than bad this camp. Yes, I’ve seen wide receivers beat Bailey a couple of times in drills. But I’ve also seen him in good coverage and create the play of camp so far with his strip-fumble and recovery on Erik Lorig with the help of Rafael Bush.
I think it’s way early to proclaim Bailey as a possible camp casualty, especially as he’s been seeing the most reps with the first-team defense at cornerback opposite Keenan Lewis.
Special teams: Shayne Graham
All has been even in the kicking battle as Graham and Derek Dimke haven’t missed through five practices. By the way Payton described the competition a couple of days ago, it seems if all is even the Saints would prefer Graham win the job. They like that he’s kicked in every situation in the NFL and he’s helped them win a playoff game in Philadelphia last season. I still think this is a legitimate battle, but it seems more like it’s Graham’s job to lose.