Bradley Handwerger / WWLTV.com Sports Reporter
METAIRIE, La. ― One of the things we love about training camp is position battles and this year, we've got several to pay attention to.
On Monday, we found out the right tackle position is wide open after the Saints waived former starter Jon Stinchcomb, who started 80 straight games at the position.
Coach Sean Payton also listed a few other positions to watch for the next few weeks: fullback (Korey Hall vs. Jed Collins), strongside linebacker (Will Herring vs. Clint Ingram), weakside linebacker (Scott Shanle vs. Jonathan Casillas) and backup cornerback (Johnny Patrick vs. Patrick Robinson vs. Leigh Torrence).
And truthfully, all appear wide open except for right tackle. Strief is a five-year veteran who has been in this offense since he came into the league. He has seen plenty of playing time, being utilized in the past as the sixth lineman or extra blocking back. Brown lost his special teams position after the San Francisco game in Week 2 of the 2010 season when his man tipped a field goal.
That said, taking in the Sam and Will linebacker battles along with the one at fullback are all entertaining.
At fullback, Collins has played much of the time with the first-team this preseason. But the Saints signed Hall as the first non-Saint free agent once the lockout ended. His special teams prowess likely lands him on the roster but Collins has the trust of the 'in group,' dining with Drew Brees, Chase Daniel and their pals at times.
At Sam, Herring and Ingram is an interesting one. Herring was brought in basically to beef up that position. He wouldn't have signed in New Orleans if he weren't going to have a legitimate chance to grab a starting role. But Ingram is a Gregg Williams guy and if he's healthy, has a fighting chance to stick around.
And at Will, you've got perhaps the least-appreciated man on the team in Shanle, who hasn't been beaten out in five years. He's smart, knows the defense and almost always in the right spot at the right time. However, this time, he's going against a young and athletic Casillas, who has begun to play like he did last preseason when he earned a starting job before injuring his foot.
As mentioned, the Saints cut ties with Stinchcomb, who was the longest-tenured player on the team coming into the season. The move was a bit shocking and everyone we talked with gushed about what he meant to them.
Two new players were added to the list Torrence (hip) and linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar (quad).
Payton didn't make it sound like either are serious injuries.
For a complete report, check out the story at WWLTV.com.
Come Week 1, we'll for sure know whether the Saints will be missing defensive end Will Smith or not. The league has not said yes or no to whether he'll be suspended for a 2008 case in which the NFL says he violated its banned substance policy.
If he's out, the Saints would much worse off. He's having the best preseason he has had.
'I think he's looked as good as I can recall,' Payton said. 'I think he played well the other night in the snaps he had. He's in good shape and he looks to have his legs back underneath him. I've been pleased with where he's at.'
He should be. Smith has been terrific in camp, coming up with a standout play every other day. Against the 49ers, he had two quarterback hits, including one that nearly caused a fumble.
The question is, who fills in in his place. Alex Brown will start opposite of the position. I believe Turk McBride is the next guy the team goes to and Cameron Jordan eventually will be.
But if Smith isn't on the roster, they're not going with a three-man defensive end rotation. Jeff Charleston is a known entity, working his way into the coaching staff's good graces. Junior Galette has potential but he's a bit green behind the ears.
In my first 53-man roster, I had Charleston getting the spot with Galette being one of my toughest decisions. I'm not sold on it. Both play special teams and bring their own unique talents to the table. Both, also, have worked with the second team at the end position.
The question is, does the staff go with what they know or do they go with upside? Or, do they go with both?
This and that
*During team running period, Herring blew up an inside handoff, fighting through tight end David Thomas' block to stuff running back Pierre Thomas at the line. Meanwhile, Vilma absolutely annihilated offensive tackle Dan Gay, knocking the lineman off of his feet.
*The second-team defensive line during run period was Galette and McBride at ends with Jordan and Mitch King at the two defensive tackle positions.
*Running back Mark Ingram went around left end and outraced defensive backs Pierson Prioleau and Isa Abdul-Quddus to the end zone. Reason No. 765 that we all think Ingram will be an integral part of the offense this year and well into the future.
*Kicker Garrett Hartley went 5-for-6 Monday, hitting twice from 38, twice from 48 and once from 58. He missed his second attempt from 58, but the distance was there. I think it's safe to say Hartley has a cannon for a leg.
*How much does quarterback Drew Brees think of tight end Jimmy Graham? After Graham caught a pass from quarterback Chase Daniel and turned upfield, Quddus ran him down, tackling the tight end to the ground. Graham was slow to get up and Brees ran down the field to make sure his tight end was OK. And then Brees exchanged what can be assumed to be choice words.
*The offense won much of the day but at the end, when the practice was true down-and-distance, the defense won. Both the first-team and second-team offense failed to convert a first down on four straight plays.
From the 22:
1st and 10 @ 22: QB Drew Brees to WR Lance Moore fro 19-plus
2nd and 10 @ 17: Brees to RB Darren Sproles in front of CB Patrick Robinson, Sproles spins past Robinson and away from LB Jonathan Casillas and outruns everyone to the pylon for a TD.
3rd and 7 @ 15: Brees incomplete to Moore out of back of end zone
1st and 10 @ 11: RB Pierre Thomas around left end; MLB Jonathan Vilma and SS Roman Harper combine to stop for 1-2 yards
2nd and goal @ 8: RB Mark Ingram runs through LB Dwight Roberson for TD
3rd and goal @ 4: Brees scrambles, incomplete to WR Marques Colston in end zone. DE Cameron Jordan with the pressure
1st and 10 @ 45: Brees back shoulder to Graham. Ball was in his hands, but FS Malcolm Jenkins breaks the pass up
2nd and 10 @ 45: Brees to Sproles check down left for 7 yards
3rd and 3@ 38: Brees to Sproles left incomplete. Sproles doesn't turn in time to find ball
4th and 3 @ 38: Brees incomplete to no one in particular. Graham in vicinity, Colston kept running.
The Saints will go at it again today, working from 4-6:30 p.m. on the outdoor fields. It's open to the public, weather permitting, and is the last open practice of the preseason in New Orleans.