If you’re one of the seemingly few people in the New Orleans metropolitan area not at the Black & Gold scrimmage – or if you’re using your mobile data device to read this – here are three things we’re looking for during today’s practice.
1. First look at left tackle
We’ve watched all week as Charles Brown, Terron Armstead and Jason Smith have begun to work towards solidifying the Saints’ left tackle problem.
Through eight practices, Brown has looked the part. While he has faced obstacles to get to this point, Brown is the veteran at the position and has been given the reps with the first-team all week. He has looked steady and confident and teammates all say he has the talent to be the man this season if he can stay healthy.
Armstead and Smith have swapped places, with the rookie taking most of the second-team snaps by the end of the week. Armstead has been beaten by a defensive player his fair share of times, but he also has shown what it could look like when everything clicks. On one particular play this week, he pancake blocked linebacker Eric Martin, showing athleticism in pushing his foe to the outside and then to the ground.
Smith has appeared to have the lowest ceiling of the trio. While he has stymied his fair share of pass rushes, he hasn’t held his own enough times, in our estimation, to give coaches confidence he has overcome the slow start to his career. It’s possible the former No. 2 overall pick out of Baylor is out of the NFL by the end of training camp.
That said, none of the three have seen fully live drills, which they will during the scrimmage. Other than not tackling the quarterbacks, today is expected to be full speed. We’ll begin to get a true look at the position today.
2. Rotation at outside linebacker
Thanks to injuries, a once seemingly deep position is a bit less. Victor Butler is out for an extended period with a torn left anterior cruciate ligament. Martez Wilson is out for another 1-3 weeks with a dislocated left elbow.
So, the rotation at outside linebacker will be interesting to watch. Baraka Atkins and Chase Thomas have been working with the second team at the “Sam” position behind Junior Galette.
A little about Atkins: He hasn’t played in a regular season game since 2008. He has been released late in training camp the past three years – Dallas in 2012, Pittsburgh in 2011 and Denver in 2010. He worked with new Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan in Dallas, so there’s familiarity with the defense and the position.
A little about Thomas: He was expected to go in the draft but slipped out after a standout career at Stanford, where he played outside linebacker. The 6-foot-3, 241-pound rookie stood out on film, coach Sean Payton said, which is why they signed him.
But Thomas hasn’t really made his presence known thus far through camp. Atkins is hard to miss at 6-4, 265 pounds and has made the occasional play, but few more than Thomas.
Seeing how they play today and how they’re rotated will begin to give us an idea of the true depth.
3. The ball-catchers
With Marques Colston out so far with a foot injury, Lance Moore has been the only receiver with more than one year experience catching balls from quarterback Drew Brees.
That means Joseph Morgan, Andy Tanner, Nick Toon and Kenny Stills all have received a few more reps with the first team than the others.
While today won’t go a long way in determining which receivers and how many of them are kept – preseason games are actually good for something – we’ll begin to see which players have the confidence of the coaches.
It has been a fairly tight race thus far and will be one of the more enjoyable ones to watch the rest of preseason.