With their first preseason game on the horizon, the New Orleans Saints have been back at work on the training grounds at West Virginia's Greenbrier Resort this week, as they look to round out their second full week of training camp practices on a high note.
The Saints face off with the St. Louis Rams on Friday night, a game which will be broadcast on the NFL Network. Following a successful Black and Gold scrimmage over the weekend, the Saints have eased themselves back into action with an eye on an actual game setting in St. Louis and the chance to square off against another team.
Here are some notes from Saints training camp over the last three days:
As of Wednesday, the number of Saints players sidelined by minor injuries has surged from a couple to more than a handful.
The most notable of the bunch is quarterback Drew Brees, who was held out of the scrimmage over the weekend due to a slight oblique strain. Coach Sean Payton insists the injury is minor in nature and the Saints are simply erring on the side of caution with their valuable signal-caller. Drew Brees should be back on the practice field within a matter of days.
Champ Bailey (ankle), Ben Grubbs(undisclosed), Kenny Stills (quad), Erik Lorig (leg), and Terrence Frederick (hamstring) have all missed practice time this week. John Jenkins remains on active/PUP following offseason pectoral surgery, but is continuing to make progress and should be activated soon. Je'Ron Hamm, Andy Tanner and Jahri Evans all sat out Wednesday morning's practice, while Victor Butler remains absent with an apparent foot injury.
The injury bug has even affected long snapper Justin Drescher, who was spotted riding a stationary bike off to the side Wednesday morning.
Last but not least, even owner Tom Benson was affected, having to leave Tuesday morning's session with apparent breathing difficulties, likely attributed to the altitude at the Saints' West Virginia-based camp. Benson has returned to New Orleans where he is said to be resting comfortably.
The good news on the injury front was that both Joe Morgan and Glenn Foster were back in action having missed time earlier in the week. Brees remains sidelined but was seen jogging at a lively pace alongside Jenkins early Wednesday. Jairus Byrd remains full-go in individual drills, but has yet to participate in team drills as the Saints closely monitor his recovery from May back surgery.
On his injured quarterback's availability for Friday night's game, Payton said, "We are going to see where he is at. We are going to be smart though. We will just see where he is at tomorrow, each day.”
The Saints announced a handful of roster moves Tuesday evening.
The team signed TE Richard Quinn and WR Tobais Palmer. In corresponding moves, the Saints waived/injured WR Steve Hull, NT Tyrone Ezell, and LB Marcus Thompson.
Quinn appeared in 29 games for the Denver Broncos, who drafted him in 2009. He was waived/injured in the summer of 2011and subsequently bounced around between the Washington Redskins, Cincinnati Bengals, and Arizona Cardinals organizations. The 6-4 264 Quinn has caught just one pass for nine yards in his short career.
Palmer, 24, signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars as a 2013 undrafted free agent. The North Carolina State alum appeared in just one game for the Jags before being released. He spent time with the San Diego Chargers, securing a spot on their practice squad last season before being waived in May.
- With Drew Brees out, Ryan Griffin and Luke McCown continue to take turns with the first team offense in practices. Both players are competing for the backup job behind Brees, and have had their moments in training camp. Griffin had a nice go of it in Monday's padded walk thru, with CB Keenan Lewis saying afterward, "(Griffin) really whooped us out there today."
- Terron Armstead continues to shine in camp, excelling in individual and team drills. The 2nd year man was thrust into action late last season, but has made great progress on the back of a strong offseason, and looks ready to man the all-important left tackle spot for years to come.
- Brandin Cooks also continues to impress. The team's 2014 first rounder has been dazzling day after day in training camp, and had the play of the day Tuesday as he took a routine screen pass from McCown and juked his way through the defense en route to a long score. Cooks also hauled in a nice grab for a touchdown in red zone drills. Star of the show: Rookie Brandin Cooks continues to stand out at training camp.
- Khiry Robinson continues to solidify himself as a 2014 sleeper, excelling in run drills while also showcasing his ability to be a viable pass-catcher out of the backfield, a key cog the Saints need to rely upon following the departure of Darren Sproles. Robinson turned a short pass over the middle into a long gain during Wednesday's workout in 7-on-7 drills.
- Tim Lelito and Jonathan Goodwin continue to share reps with the 1's and 2's, similar to the quarterbacks. In addition, with Ben Grubbs still nursing an injury, Goodwin has seen some reps at guard, a position he played earlier in his career as a New York Jet.
- As for the ever-intriguing kicking battle, Shayne Graham made all of his attempts Wednesday, while Derek Dimke missed one wide left from 53 yards out. The pair will duke it out over the course of the four preseason games to see who will handle the place kicking duties in 2014. Veteran Graham has the edge for now, but Dimke has been pushing him every day at camp.
- Akiem Hicks has been an unstoppable force in blocking and pass protection drills throughout training camp. The third-year DE looks poised for what could be his best season as a pro, and has soaked up extra work inside with Jenkins still out.
- 2014 2nd round CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste continues to improve by the day at training camp. The rookie from Nebraska has progressed in coverage, and has made some good plays on the ball in redzone drills.
- Keyunta Dawson is quietly having a nice camp, often beating his man off the snap in blocking drills. Dawson has also provided relentless pass rush in team drills, much to the delight of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who was looking for more in that area after his unit struggled to disrupt Brees last week. Stanley Jean-Baptiste had his best practice of training camp on Tuesday.
- LB Rufus Johnson has also stood out in team drills, both in run support and coverage.
- Reserve safeties Marcus Ball, Vinnie Sunseri and Pierre Warren have all put together strong performances in training camp thus far. It will be interesting to see how the battle for roster spots at the two safety spots shakes out.
- Rookie LB Khairi Fortt has been getting reps at both inside and outside 'backer in camp, and Rob Ryan has been pleased with his progress and versatility.
- LBs Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne excelled in blitz pickup drills Wednesday, both "sacking" and pressuring the quarterbacks throughout the workout.
- Kenny Vaccaro continues to develop and emerge as a vocal leader on this defense. Entering his second season, Vaccaro has been moved around in various packages as Rob Ryan looks to get the most out of his versatile and talented chess pieces.
- The Saints used a nickel package that featured Lewis and Patrick Robinson at the corners, Corey White over the slot, Bush single high and Vaccaro playing in the box. This unit would look different assuming both Bailey and Byrd were available, but all of those players figure to see significant reps throughout the remainder of training camp and into the regular season.
- White, in particular, has flown under the radar while putting together a nice camp. His skill set seems to fit the slot corner role quite well. White has made a number of plays on the ball throughout camp, and has earned the trust of his fellow DBs and Ryan, who expressed his delight with the Samford alum, who recorded 41 tackles and an interception last year.
“We really like him. We love him as an inside corner, but he has done some good things outside as well," said Ryan. "We’re excited about him. He started for us down the stretch and did a really good job in those games. We know he’s an ascending player and he’s going to be really good.”
The Saints will conduct an hour-long walk thru Wednesday afternoon but will not practice Thursday as they travel to St. Louis ahead of Friday night's matchup.
The Rams are likely to withhold quarterback Sam Bradford (knee) and OL Jake Long (knee) from the game as precautionary measures. The two players have been active in camp and should be in line to play later in the preseason for St. Louis. Sam Bradford won't play Friday night against the Saints.
Meanwhile, the Saints will be facing a familiar face on Friday night in the form of ex-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
Williams helped the Saints to their first ever Super Bowl triumph in the 2009 season, but has become more synonymous with the unfortunate bounty scandal that saw both he and Saints coach Sean Payton suspended from all football activities for over a year. Several players also missed time in the aftermath of the scandal.
In an interesting twist, current Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was reportedly close to agreeing to become Rams' coach Jeff Fisher's D.C. only to jump on board with New Orleans at the eleventh hour.
Needless to say, there will be a high degree of familiarity between Williams and his former players, including the offensive weapons who had to battle his defenses in practice every day .
"He (Williams) zero-blitzed four times out of (the first) nine (plays)," said tight end Jimmy Graham in regards to a 2011 preseason contest against the San Francisco 49ers in which Williams relentlessly unleashed his unit upon the 'Niners offense. "That's who he is, and he brings it."