After ten successfully productive practices over the course of five days at their West Virginia-based training camp, the New Orleans Saints are enjoying a day off Wednesday. The team will be back on the practice fields at the Greenbrier Resort tomorrow for another double session, two days ahead of Saturday's first Black and Gold scrimmage.
It's been a busy and dilligent week for the Saints, and players have taken advantage of the much cooler West Virginia weather and thrived in the conditions as they aim to put in the work ahead of what they hope will be another season culminating in a playoff push.
Here are some updates from Saints training camp this week:
- Jonathan Goodwin and Tim Lelito continue to split reps with the 1's and 2's, with undrafted rookie Matt Armstrong also getting some reps with the 2's and 3's. Lelito says that the veteran Goodwin has taken both he and his former Grand Valley State teammate, Armstrong, under his wing. Goodwin was re-signed in June with an eye on providing both competition and guidance for the younger Lelito.Jonathan Goodwin will compete with/mentor Tim Lelito and Matt Armstrong in training camp.
- The team continues to emphasize the run game in training camp, with an eye on translating that work into the regular season. The offensive line has been winning battles in the trenches in camp and seems to be practicing with sky-high confidence. Coach Sean Payton and his staff hope that a beefed-up run game will help the team better sustain drives and keep their defense fresh heading into the 4th quarter during the season. Payton liked his team's more physical style of play at the back-end of last season, and intends to build off it.
- Rookie WR Brandin Cooks continues to dazzle in practice, putting his game-breaking speed and agility on display every day. The Oregon State product has stood out in both individual and team drills, while also fielding both punts and kickoffs in practice. Cooks had the offense's play of the day Tuesday, taking a short pass from Brees over 50 yards to paydirt, scorching the Saints' first-team defense in the process.
- As expected, Drew Brees remains a surgeon in training camp workouts, putting up another flawless 5-5 in 7-on 7 drills Monday. He continues to develop chemistry with both Cooks and 3rd year receiver Nick Toon, who has been one of this training camp's most impressive players to date.Rookie Brandin Cooks continues to shine in training camp.
- Travaris Cadet, a favorite of the coaching staff, continues to progress through camp as both a receiver out of the backfield and as a capable perimeter rusher. The Saints' coaching staff believes he can help fill the shoes of the departed Darren Sproles, who was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles in the spring.
- Seantavius Jones has emerged as a name to watch in the battle for roster spots at the crowded wide receiver position. Jones, an undrafted player from Valdosta State, has been making plays throughout training camp, and hauled in a nice reception down the sideline for a big gain from QB Ryan Griffin during Tuesday morning's practice.
- Corey White continues to see reps with the 1's at safety, particularly in the nickel package. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan unveiled what could be a very formidable nickel group which saw both White and Rafael Bush line up at Safety, with Kenny Vaccaro covering the slot. In addition, Keenan Lewis and Champ Bailey played the corners while Patrick Robinson, who has had himself a nice training camp, split reps with Bailey. This package will allow the Saints to disguise their coverage out of the nickel, and can see a player like Vaccaro either jam the slot WR off the line or blitz, while the corners play press-man and the single high safety patrols the back-end of the secondary.
- Lewis, the Saints' talisman at the corner position, had himself a great practice on Monday, breaking up two consecutive Drew Brees passes in team drills. Patrick Robinson also stood out with a near interception against the first-team offense, which drew praise from both teammates and coaches.Patrick Robinson is healthy once again, and is having himself a prodcutive training camp for the Saints.
- The defensive line did much better in rushing drills on Monday and Tuesday, winning battles at the point of attack while the linebackers and defensive backs also stood out, much to the delight of Rob Ryan, who was unhappy with his unit's performances in practice last week.
- Vaccaro continues to emerge as a young leader on this Saints team. Often heard shouting words of encouragement at his teammates, the 2nd year safety out of Texas made a nice play Tuesday, bursting into the backfield off a run blitz to sniff out a would-be reverse to Joe Morgan.
- Stanley Jean-Baptiste, the team's 2014 second round draft choice, had his first notable standout moment in training camp, stripping the ball from Nick Toon and scooping it up which drew cheers from onlooking supporters.
- Former CFL player Marcus Ball, signed in free agency from the Toronto Argonauts, had an interception in 7-on-7's, picking off Ryan Griffin as the third-team offense and defense squared off Tuesday.
- Tuesday was by far the defense's best day of training camp, with 2014 rookies Ronald Powell and Vinnie Sunseri also having nice moments in addition to improved all-around play from the front seven.
Kenny Stills remained sidelined through Tuesday with a bothersome quad injury, though Sean Payton remains confident that the 2nd year receiver's return will come sooner rather than later.
Some more encouraging news emerged Tuesday morning as Jairus Byrd was activated from the PUP list. Byrd went full speed in individual drills, but remained out of team drills as the Saints look to play it safe with their prized free agent signing.
Rookie lineman Tavon Rooks was also active for the first time in training camp, as he was removed from the Non-Football Injury list.
Robert Meachem returned to the field after sitting out the previous two days with a slight back injury. Ben Grubbs remained out with an undisclosed problem that Payton insists is not serious in nature.
WR Steve Hull had to be helped off the field Monday. Hull, an undrafted prospect out of Illinois who also has experience playing safety, missed some of the team's OTAs last month with an injury. There was no update on his status as of Wednesday afternoon.
Payton, Ryan Encouraged by Byrd's Return
Following his first practice since undergoing minor back surgery at the end of May, Jairus Byrd's return extracted joy and praise from both Payton and Ryan, who are eager to see the former Buffalo Bill, owner of 22 career interceptions, make a strong impact on their defense in 2014.Jairus byrd was activated from the PUP list and practiced for the first time on Tuesday.
“It’s great to get him out there," said Ryan. "He has been great in the meetings. He is a great leader. I think getting him out there with his teammates is always good. We are taking our time doing the right thing. He is working really hard so everything is going really well. I think our three safety deal, the game is changing as you know. You have to have more guys that can cover, run, do all of these different things, and that’s why I think the game really does evolve. The three safety package comes in a lot more than it has ever in football. We are fortunate enough. We have five really talented safeties on the roster. We plan on playing them all because they’re really good players.”
Ryan also gushed at Byrd's natural playmaking instincts which have seen him develop into one of the game's better safeties. The former Oregon Duck has the potential to form quite a partnership with Kenny Vaccaro.
“I think he has unique ball skills. If that ball hits his hands he is going to catch it. But also with that, he is very smart. He can put himself in the plays. He has just been great all through his career. I think that one thing with (forcing and recovering) turnovers in the National Football League, these are the best quarterbacks in the world. You have to play your technique. You have to be disciplined, but there comes to a time and point where every turnover is made where a guy has to just go make it.”
In addition, Payton was happy to see Byrd back in action Tuesday.
"I am glad we did the procedure when we did rather than try to get through the season in a maintenance mode," said the Saints' coach. "I know he feels better and yet we still have to be smart. We have a lot of time and a lot of things that we have to do and a lot of things that he has to be able to catch up on. He is a quick study. He has been attentive in all of the meetings. It is good having him out here. (Being a vocal leader) it’s a strength of his. Now it is just physically transitioning back into football playing shape."
Meanwhile, the player himself, was glad to be back.
“I felt good coming back, but it’s something that we want to be smart about,” said Byrd. “It’s a long season ahead. I just wanted to make sure I went through the steps to come back. I want to do the process right. Continue back in those football movements, doing those things. That’s the only way you (get in football shape), is replicate those movements.”
Back at it Thursday
Practices will resume again tomorrow and Friday ahead of Saturday's scrimmage. Check back this weekend for further updates from New Orleans Saints training camp.