Fresh off the heels of a 26-24 victory over the St. Louis Rams in their preseason opener last Friday night, the New Orleans Saints have been back on the practice fields at their training camp base in West Virginia since Sunday afternoon. The team has begun preparations for their preseason home opener this Friday against the Tennessee Titans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
This week marks the final few days of training at the Greenbrier Resort, as the Saints will break camp on Thursday and head home in advance of Friday night's contest. The remainder of training camp and preseason will be conducted at the team's Metairie facility. The Saints have had, by and large, a successful stay in West Virginia, though a spate of nagging injuries has forced several players to the sidelines in recent days.
The preseason opener produced a mixed bag of results, the final score notwithstanding, as several players shined in the year's first game-like situation, while others showed they have plenty of strides left to take with week 1 now just under a month away.
With only two more days to go until the team returns to Louisiana, here is the latest information that has trickled out of Saints' camp...
As of Tuesday, quarterback Drew Brees remained off to the side at practice, as he continues to deal with a strained oblique muscle that has kept him sidelined since August 1. Brees remains on track to return at some point, presumably before the team's dress rehearsal against the Indianapolis Colts on August 23. The eight-time Pro Bowler continued to run and throw passes off to the side while his teammates practiced.
Coach Sean Payton remains positive on Brees' injury, and continues to state that his signal-caller is "day-to-day," as the Saints play it safe with their most valuable asset.
Safety Jairus Byrd remains on track to return soon as well, though the team's prized free agent acquisition continues to be eased back into action after back surgery at the end of May. Brees and Byrd played catch during warm-ups ahead of Friday night's game, and both figure to be back in the fold within days, not weeks. Jairus Byrd continues to be eased slowly back into action at Saints' camp.
Meanwhile, other notable absentees are CB Champ Bailey (ankle), LB Victor Butler (foot), WR Kenny Stills (quad), G Jahri Evans (undisclosed), and FB Erik Lorig (leg). Pierre Thomas, Patrick Robinson and kicker Shayne Graham have also missed time, but had returned to the practice fields by Tuesday.
Other players that have battled minor injuries throughout camp include CB Rod Sweeting, OL Ty Nsekhe, TE Je'Ronn Hamm, CB Terrence Frederick, WR Andy Tanner, LB David Hawthorne, LB Kyle Knox, RB Tim Flanders, and WR Joe Morgan.
The best news of the last few days in regards to injuries came Sunday, when DT John Jenkins was activated from the PUP list and worked out with the team for the first time this summer. Jenkins had pectoral surgery this spring, and has missed the majority of the team's offseason program. He and fellow defensive lineman Akiem Hicks have been ticketed for major roles in year 2 of Rob Ryan's defensive schemes.
"John is a guy with a lot of energy," said defensive end Tyrunn Walker. "He gets out there and he works hard, so it was awesome seeing John back in the pads and seeing him back in the fold and getting some work.”
Pro Bowl G Ben Grubbs is also closing in on a full return after missing several days with an undisclosed ailment. Both Grubbs and Jenkins have been in pads but are yet to take part in team drills. Nevertheless, it is a step in the right direction as the Saints look to shake off these maladies with the most important slate of the preseason schedule on deck.
-With Brees still out, both Ryan Griffin and Luke McCown continue to rotate with the first-team offense, as do centers Tim Lelito and Jonathan Goodwin.
- Of the two backup quarterbacks, Griffin continues trending up, and has put together a string of solid practices on the back of his impressive 16-13, 179, 1 touchdown outing in St. Louis. Griffin wrapped up Sunday's afternoon practice with a Hail Mary touchdown pass to tight end Benjamin Watson.
- McCown, meanwhile, struggled in 7-on7 drills, tossing three straight incompletions while also taking a sack. The pair continue to battle for the backup job behind Brees, while undrafted free agent Logan Kilgore takes reps with the third-team.
- Brandin Cooks continues to draw rave reviews in camp, pulling off a spectacular play, or two, or three seemingly every day. On Monday, Cooks took a routine bubble screen, made one cut to the middle of the field and burned the Saints' first-team defense for a long touchdown. Another day, another big play from Brandin Cooks in camp.
- Senio Kelemete continues to fill in well at guard in place of Grubbs, though the Pro Bowler appears to be on the cusp of a return to action.
- Terron Armstead remains a dominant force at left tackle in practice, often squaring off against the likes of Junior Galette and Cameron Jordan in team drills. This news will delight Saints fans, after the 2nd-year man was thrown into the deep end near the back-end of last season. Armstead managed to hold his own in the final four games, including a pair of playoff matchups, and has made significant progress as he enters his first season as a full-time starter at one of the game's most important positions.
- After a string of days with lovely weather, the Saints have had to endure the elements in the mountains of West Virginia, as persistent drizzle and light rain has dampened the last two practices. This led to several botched snaps during Monday's practice, much to the chagrin of Sean Payton, who called the workout "flat," and expressed his disappointment with the miscues, saying, "Overall, it was kind of sloppy I thought, a lot of balls on the ground – too much for my liking or our liking. I thought the short-yardage period was the same way, just OK, probably, one of our more flat practices since we’ve been up here. The weather’s not that bad, we’re going to play in weather like this."
The good news, despite more wet weather, only one botched snap occured in Tuesday's workout, a much better day all around.
- The defense has gotten the better of the offense since the Saints returned to the practice fields on Sunday. The defensive front has been dominant in run drills, and has provided consistent pressure on the quarterbacks, much to the delight of Rob Ryan, who has been eager to see improvement in those areas.
- DT Brodrick Bunkley and LB Ramon Humber have flown under the radar somewhat in camp, but both played well against the Rams and carried that momentum over into practice this week. Bunkley has played the run well, while also generating pressure up the gut. Humber has had a consistent camp, and Payton says that the team knows what they have in the sixth-year veteran. Brodrick Bunkley has quietly put together a strong training camp with the saints.
- Undrafted safety Pierre Warren continues to make plays every day. In the play of the day at Monday's practice, Warren stripped tight end Nic Jacobs, recovered the ball and returned it approximately 75 yards for a touchdown. Rookie safety Vinnie Sunseri also continues to show marked improvement at the position, as does free agent signing Marcus Ball, who has seen reps with the first-team defense.
- After a rough debut, rookie 2nd-round draft choice Stanley Jean-Baptiste has made steady progress in camp over the last three days. The former Nebraska corner has seen increased reps with the 1's, and had a good workout Tuesday, breaking up passes on two consecutive plays in 7-on-7 drills. The talented Jean-Baptiste has all the tools to blossom into a special player at a position which usually takes time to adjust to at the pro level. Rookie CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste has struggled at times, but the future still looks bright for the former Cornhusker.
- Rookie LB Khairi Fortt has also been the recipient of increased work with the 1's as Victor Butler battles another nagging injury. Fortt, like most of the Saints 'backers, has cross-trained at both inside and outside in Ryan's 3-4 base scheme, and should have a role to play in the defense should he stay healthy after overcoming injuries in college.
- Corey White continues to thrive as the team's nickelback, a position which suits his skill set. White has showcased impressive ball skills and coverage inside, while the likes of Patrick Robinson, Keenan Lewis and Jean-Baptiste line up outside.
Prepping For Titans
The Saints will have another full morning practice Wednesday, sandwiched in between afternoon walk-throughs, before departing home for New Orleans on Thursday.
The Titans defeated the Green Bay Packers 20-16 in a rain-soaked game in Nashville, a game that was the preseason opener for both teams.
Former LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger figures to see plenty of snaps in his forthcoming return to Louisiana.
Drew Brees will likely be withheld, so it appears that round two of Griffin v McCown is on deck. McCown started in St. Louis, so it would seem likely that Griffin could get the nod against Tennessee.
Check back with Fantasy Knuckleheads later this week for more updates from Saints' camp.