May 30, 2008

Saints Mini Camp This Weekend

The Saints will hold their mandatory mini camp practices this weekend with Saturday morning's practice being open to the public. I will not be attending, but if you go, here's a few things to watch for during the practices:
  1. Wide Reciever Battle: The Saints typically keep five WRs on the main roster (Last year, they kept six to hold onto the inactive Robert Meachem). With depth that includes Marques Colston, David Patten, Devery Henderson, Meachem, Lance Moore, Terrance Copper, Skyler Green and Adrian Arrington, there will be some tough cuts in training camp. It's likely that behind Colston, Patten and Meachem, the remaining two receivers will have be be able to play special teams. This gives the nod to Copper, who I think Coach Payton prefers to Moore. Rookie 7th rounder Arrington has been impressive thus far in camp, so be sure to watch him in these practices. Also keep an eye on Meachem, who's healthy for the first time since being drafted by the Saints.
  2. Improvement in the Secondary: The Saints brought in Aaron Glenn, Randall "Blue" Gay and rookie Tracy Porter this offseason to improve the team's weakest link, the secondary. Glenn, Mike McKenzie and safety Josh Bullocks won't practice this weekend so look for others to get to run with the first unit. Jason David was horrible last year, so it will be interesting to see if he has improved after a year in the Saints system. Porter will get lots of playing time this year, as will fan favorite Usama Young. There will be some tough cuts here as well as Jason Craft, David, or Glenn may not make the roster.
  3. Who's Going to Carry the Load at Running Back?: Reggie Bush showed last year that he wasn't capable of handling the bulk of the work at RB. He's better suited as a hybrid WR/RB, like his rookie year. Deuce McAllister is still recovering from offseason knee surgeries, so Pierre Thomas and Aaron Stecker will get extra work at RB. Both proved to be capable NFL runners last year and are vying for playing time, should Deuce not be able to come back. Fans would love to see Thomas get more carries. It will be interesting to see how Payton handles the RB situation.
  4. The Sederick Ellis Hype Machine: Ellis was unblockable at the Senior Bowl practices. Then the Saints reported that he was dominant at Rookie Camp. So let's see what he can do against starting caliber guards and centers. Remember that the team won't be wearing pads, so it will be hard to gage the battles in the trenches, but Ellis will have the eyes of the Black and Gold Nation on him the minute he walks on the practice field. Fans will wonder if he was worth trading up for and if he'll be the savior for the defense? Mr. Benson will be wondering if he'll be worth the contract he'll have to fork over for him.
  5. Disgruntled Players: Will Smith, Marques Colston and Jahri Evans are due for new contracts, as all are reaching the end of their rookie deals. Colston and Evans have most certainly outplayed their current deals. There's been the most rumbling from Smith, who hasn't attended OTAs yet, but he'll be in town for mini camp. All three should get new deals as they are among the best young players, not only on the team, but in the entire NFL.
  6. Kicking Battle: Veteran Martin Gramatica will battle rookie Taylor Mehlhaff for the kicking job for the Saints. Mehlhaff has the stronger leg and was the first kicker taken in the draft. Gramatica was signed last season when Olindo Mare was injured, and he kicked a perfect 5/5 on field goals. He is a fiery kicker, but he's not the Pro Bowler that he once was. Mehlhaff will be given every opportunity to win the job.
  7. The Man in the Middle: Starting center Jeff Faine took the cash and landed in Tampa Bay during the offseason. This leaves the job to Jonathan Goodwin with Matt Lehr backing him up. The Saints must feel confident in Goodwin because they didn't address this major need in the draft. Goodwin has been a productive backup since coming to New Orleans in 2006. He started a couple of games for the Black and Gold, and there was no real drop off from Faine.
  8. Backup QB Job: The Saints backup QB job will come down to a pair of lefties, Mark Brunell and Tyler Palko. Brunell has the upper hand as a seasoned veteran, but he was demoted to 3rd sting in Washington last year. Palko has been in Payton's system for over a year now and should know the playbook a lot better than Brunell.
It should be a fun and interesting minicamp. We're a little less than two months away from training camp and soon after that, preseason games. The football season is right around the corner!

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