After Saturday's Black and Gold Scrimmage, the New Orleans Saints are eight practice days deep into training camp, and fast approaching their preseason opener in St. Louis on Friday.
Here are a few things I'll be watching this week:
1. Injuries:I think everyone was surprised to see Drew Brees without his pads on Saturday. That said, I don't think there's any reason to be alarmed. Head coach Sean Payton made sure of that rather quickly at his post-scrimmage media availability, saying that Brees' left oblique injury was 'day-to-day' and the team merely wanted him to rest and be re-evaluated on Monday. Brees, more than any player on the Saints roster, can afford to miss a few practices if need be. Even at full strength, Brees would more than likely only play a series or two in St. Louis. No need to rush him back too soon and have the injury linger. ... Of more concern, though, is the purported injury to Champ Bailey.He's been M.I.A. since Thursday afternoon's walkthrough, fueling wild speculation (by some) that there's something more to the story. Payton isn't saying much, but that's nothing new, so the only things to do are wait and see if Bailey pops up this week....Safety Jairus Bryd was also held out of Saturday's scrimmage, however that was expected as the team is being cautious with him after his offseason back surgery. ...Several other injured players look to be close to their returns, read about them here.
2. The center battle:As I wrote earlier, the competition between Jonathan Goodwin and Tim Lelito isn't ending any time soon. Actually, it's really just ramping up, and we'll learn a lot about where it stands over the next two weeks. ... I think we're likely to see more of Lelito, a second-year converted guard, in St. Louis, as he obviously needs game work more than Goodwin, a 13-year veteran.Furthermore, the Saints have a penchant for not overworking their more senior players during the preseason.The Saints know what they have with Goodwin, who Payton described as 'consistent,' saying'he obviously knows exactly where to go. He will go six, seven weeks without a mental error. That is the type of player he is.' ... Tackle Zach Strief said Lelito 'has worked very hard and is very hard on himself. He wants to be perfect at (playing center).' ... The general feeling is that Lelito is improving each day, but it remains to be seen whether that improvement will be enough to warrant a starting role once the season begins. ...Jahri Evens probably summed up the competition best, saying: 'Tim's getting better. There's a lot going on for Tim. It's the first time he's played center, especially at this level. The one thing I can say is that he's getting better. Goody is a seasoned vet, he's a pro. He's played 13-14 years in this league and Goody is just like we all remember Goody. We jell well together, we know where each other is going to be. We have those games and those reps with each other. I think both guys are working hard, and the thing is that the eye in the sky doesn't lie. Go back to the film and see who's the better guy.'... Payton said he'd do just that, on saying on Saturday:'I think we've got to look at the tape. To truly evaluate the offensive lineman, you have to go in and grade each snap...how their steps and technique (are). I think we had one quarterback/center exchange issue. Both of those guys one is a veteran obviously, another is playing center for the first year both of them are receiving a lot of reps.'
3. Forward progress:Young players turned in three of most impressive performances on Saturday. Now, it's time to see if they can build on it.
- WR Brandin Cooks: With six receptions for well over 100 yards and an ankle-breaking touchdown, Cooks stole the show. His performance validated everything the players had been saying about the rookie first-round draft pick. ... Fellow wide receiver Marques Colston said: 'You guys got a chance to see what we have been seeing the first two weeks here. He's electric, he can run all the routes, and he's a big play guy.'... I can only imagine Payton and offensive coordinator Pete Charmichael huddled in some flowery room at The Greenbrier concocting innovating and exciting ways to put the ball in his hands.The Saints clearly have big plans for Cooks, so I won't be surprised if his role is limited on Friday. The Saints don't want to risk an injury and they surely don't want to show too much.
- DB Marcus Ball: On a day when the defense was not up to snuff, Ball finally recreated some of the magic from his CFL days as a linebacker for the Toronto Argonauts.He hadn't done much to standout in the seven previous practices, but after watching him pick off Luke McCown, sack Ryan Griffin and make several other noticeable plays, he's looking like a pretty good bet to make the team, especially after hearing Payton talk about him. ... Still, that doesn't change the fact that Ball's been inconsistent. Now that he's getting some attention, I'll be watching to see what he does with it. ... The Saints have an incredibly deep secondary, so for Ball to find his way on to the roster, he'll have to play special teams Payton said as much Saturday: 'He was very, very productive in the CFL and I think he has a chance to be a real good special teams player. I think he understands his role, and I also think he's someone who will improve as he's gaining knowledge of our defense playing safety. He's done well in this first week, week and a half.'
- QB Ryan Griffin: I don't think there's any question that Griffin should start against the Rams if Brees isn't ready to go. For me, Griffin's performance on Saturday only further demonstrated what's been so clear through all of training camp: he's the best choice to backup Brees. He's consistently look poised under center, sharp on his delivery, and and this is the most important part confident in his abilities. ... Colston noticed it as well: 'He's playing with a lot of confidence right now. Being in that quarterback room with two vets like he is, he's definitely learning a lot from those guys and really applying it to the field.' ...The Saints saw something and Griffin when they opted to add him to the 53-man roster last year when St. Louis, reportedly, tried to sign him off the practice squad. He's done nothing to make them regret it, either.... Payton wasn't ready to hand Griffin the No. 2 job or heap too much praise him just yet, saying: 'We're just one week into training camp. We're going to get a chance to see a lot of preseason games, and I think that (just how much Griffin has improved over last year) will become more apparent to all of us.'
I'll be keeping an eye on these and all other camp developments. You can follow me on Twitter @LyonsYellin