METAIRIE, La. — For the more than 5,100 fans in attendance at Saturday’s Black and Gold Scrimmage, the glimpse of this year’s version of their team likely left them excited.
The first-team offense marched 70 yards in 13 plays against the second-team defense and scored a touchdown on a Mark Ingram run.
The defense forced three turnovers, including two interceptions, and kept the offense out of the end zone on all but two of the more 15 drives.
Here are three observations from Saturday’s scrimmage:
1) Junior Galette is poised for big things
The long-running joke regarding outside linebacker Junior Galette is that his reputation amongst fans – a.k.a. calling him a beast – came way before he had fully proven to have earned the title.
Guess what? On Saturday, he showed that he might finally be in a position to earn it. The fourth-year defensive player finished with two sacks and had a quarterback pressure and proved that he could just be that menace the team has been missing.
Not that it should be a surprise. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has a knack for putting athletic rushers in the right position to make plays.
But what has to excite the coaching staff and the fans is Galette’s maturity after signing a three-year deal this offseason. The guy who came in bright-eyed and bushy-tailed is now a savvy, hungry veteran.
“I think it was a little bit better than practices have been,” Galette said when asked to assess his play Saturday. “I took it hard on myself when I have been practicing. It felt like I haven’t been where I need to be at. I felt like today was a big step but I’m not even close to reaching my potential and as a defense, we’re not close as well.”
Galette has been working at the “Sam” linebacker position and, if he keeps this up, may make it easier for the team to go ahead and put Victor Butler on the injured reserve with his torn left anterior cruciate ligament.
2) The run game seems better
Mark Ingram ran for about 23 yards on six carries, Pierre Thomas had about 28 yards on three carries and the run game was mostly positive.
Ingram’s 3.8 yard-per-carry seems low, but factor in two runs on third-and-short – both of which he converted, including one for a touchdown – and his day is much better. Well, save for a fumble that linebacker Eric Martin caused. Still, Ingram looked quick and explosive.
Thomas, meanwhile, had a 9.3 yard average, though one of his runs was a 17-yarder left end. He also caught a swing pass for 15 yards. But it was the 17-yard run that should make folks smile. He showed speed to get around the corner and, per usual, used his blocks to perfection.
Coach Sean Payton promised that he wanted more balance on offense and on the first series, a 13-play scoring drive, six of the plays were runs. Ingram, Thomas and Darren Sproles all received touches. And they converted three third downs, all third-and-two or shorter, with runs.
The line, Ingram said, did its job Saturday.
“They’re getting push off the line of scrimmage and making seams for us to run through,” Ingram said. “That just says a lot about how much we’ve been emphasizing the running game in training camp. ... Finally we came out here in the scrimmage. It was a tackling, football tempo and we were able to move the football on the ground.”
3) The small things need to be taken care of
Not much really gets said about the small things during training camp. It’s not sexy to talk about when people want to know hear about how “Drew Brees is looking,” or how “Jimmy Graham is playing,” or how “Will Smith seems to be transitioning from defensive end to linebacker.”
But Payton hit on this in his post-scrimmage news conference. The Saints had too many pre-snap penalties – false starts or offside – that can kill drives or allow drives to continue.
The second-team offense had its second drive stymied when a false start put the team in third-and-17. On the second series of third-team offense vs. third-team defense, a false start put the team in first-and-long and it never recovered.
On the other side, an offside penalty by the second-team defense put the first-team offense in third-and-one. They scored four plays later.
In all, there were five false starts or offside penalties and, though just a scrimmage early in camp, it’s an alarming number for a team that has traditionally been one of the least penalized in the NFL.
“This will be good film for our staff evaluate and our players to see when they get back in Monday,” Payton said.