The New Orleans Saints completed their three-day mandatory June minicamp this afternoon at the team's facility in Metairie. This session wrapped up phase 3 of the franchise's offseason schedule, with one last round of organized team activities set for next week (June 16-19). Following that final round of workouts, the Saints will break for the next few weeks until the start of training camp on July 24.
Much like the last two rounds of OTAs, this minicamp was held over the course of three days from Tuesday to Thursday. All morning workouts were open to fans and media. Without further ado, Here are some news and notes from the last three days:
-Once again, other than Jimmy Graham, whose arbitration hearing concerning his franchise tag designation will be heard next week, and rookie Brandin Cooks, who can not participate until the conclusion of his quarterly semester at Oregon State, the majority of the team was present and working out in some form or fashion. Payton said that Cooks will be in New Orleans and present at OTAs next week.
-DT John Jenkins, who may be poised for a bigger role as he enters his second season, has not participated in any of the team's workouts this offseason. However, his absence was clarified this week. It turns out that the former Georgia Bulldog has been rehabilitating a Pectoral injury, and will remain sidelined until training camp.
-In addition to Jenkins, Jairus Byrd, who underwent a minor surgical procedure on his back two weeks ago, remained on the sidelines but is still on track to be back in action next month. Jairus Byrd will be back in time for training camp.
-WR Joe Morgan remained sidelined as he closes in on the final stages of his recovery from knee surgery last year. The speedster should be ready to go by camp. Fellow wideout Andy Tanner was also missing on day 1, but returned to action on Wednesday.
-WR Marques Colston revealed that the foot problems that bothered him throughout 2013 have subsided. Colston declared himself healthy, as the former 7th-rounder, who has topped the 1,000 yard mark six times in his eight year career, told reporters there were "no restrictions" this week.
-S Kenny Vaccaro was full-go this week, showing no ill-effects of the ankle injury that ended his impressive rookie year in week 16 last season.
-LB Victor Butler remained a full participant. He missed all of 2013 with a knee injury.
-WR Steve Hull and DL Tyrunn Walker both returned to action after sitting out the first two rounds of OTAs with undisclosed ailments.
Offense News & Notes
-Just as he did last week at OTAs, Tim Lelito lined up with the first-string offensive line. Jonathan Goodwin, who was re-signed last week, got some work with the 1's as well, but spent most of his time with the second team.
-Travaris Cadet continued to shine as a potential receiving threat out of the backfield. Cadet spent some time lining up out wide. The Saints are hoping to rely on Cadet to help fill the void left by Darren Sproles, who caught 71 passes for 604 yards and 2 touchdowns last season before being shipped to the Philadelphia Eagles earlier in the offseason.
-The Running Back hierarchy seems to be Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram, Khiry Robinson, Cadet, and undrafted rookie Tim Flanders. Thomas, Ingram and Robinson all got in work with the first team as early-down backs.
-FB Erik Lorig got some work as a short-yardage back, while also flashing his skills as a pass-catcher. Lorig's work in this role is notable, as the Saints have not hesitated to use the likes of Mike Karney and Jed Collins in short-yardage and goal line situations. The former Stanford and Tampa Bay Buccanneer fullback can also play some tight end in a pinch.
-TE Josh Hill, who continues to see extra reps in Jimmy Graham's place, impressed fans and coaches with some tough grabs in practice. WR Nick Toon also stood out this week, as he looks to lock up a roster spot and serve as a potential Lance Moore replacement. Toon struggled to earn the trust of his coaches and teammates last season, but is healthy and hoping to round out a strong summer in camp next month.
-Another standout was backup QB Ryan Griffin . The former Tulane passer showed good command of the second team offense, hitting former Green Wave teammate Derrick Strozier for a touchdown while also finding Travaris Cadet in the back of the end zone. Griffin is competing with Luke McCown for the chance to be second on the depth chart behind Drew Brees.
Drew Brees has been doing Drew Brees things in practice throughout the offseason.
-As for Brees, it was business as usual for the 8-time Pro Bowler. Brees operated the offense without a hitch, and showed good chemistry with his talented, yet somewhat unproven set of receivers. Brees knows what he has in Marques Colston, but Kenny Stills, Toon and Robert Meachem all made impressive catches in practice, and with the addition of first-rounder Cooks, the Saints should still field a formidable receiving corps in 2014.
-Brees, Toon and Meachem all stood out in 7-on-7 drills throughout the week.
Defense News & Notes
-Champ Bailey continued to line up with the first string at corner opposite Keenan Lewis. Rookie 2nd rounder Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Corey White and Patrick Robinson were all sprinkled in with the 1's throughout the week. Jean-Baptiste showcased his unique talent by using every inch of his 6-3 frame to make a nice leaping breakup of a ball intended for WR Seantavious Jones, who also stands at 6-3, in a 7-on-7 drill.
-S Vinnie Sunseri, a rookie 5th round draft choice, saw some reps with the first string in 7-on-7's, while also getting some time at Linebacker.
-Rafael Bush took Byrd's spot with the first team defense, and was joined by Lewis, Bailey and Vaccaro in the base secondary.
-The secondary, who stole the show in last week's OTAs, once again exhibited some nice plays in bunches throughout 7-on-7's, as Bush picked off a Drew Brees pass in the end zone. Keenan Lewis broke up a pass intended for Nick Toon in the end zone on the very next play. Rod Sweeting made a nice play of his own, breaking up a Ryan Griffin pass intended for Toon, while Jean-Baptiste and Robinson got in work with both the 1's and 2's.
-Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan shuffled players around once again, but it appears that when healthy and available, the Saints' starting defensive backfield will read: Lewis, Byrd, Vaccaro, Bailey.
-Bailey, who was courted by some clubs as a potential Safety in free agency, spent some time at the position when the defense shifted to its 4-2-5 alignment in team drills. Still, expect the 12-time Pro Bowler to spend most of his time at corner, his natural position, especially once Byrd recovers and returns to action.
Rookie 4th rounder Khairi Fortt was impressive at Linebacker with the 2nd string, displaying good coverage skills and play diagnosis while fellow rookie Ronald Powell got some snaps with the 1's as an edge-rusher.
-S Marcus Ball, formerly of the CFL's Toronto Argonauts saw some time at Linebacker in team drills. Ball has drawn some comparisons to former Saint Roman Harper, now a Carolina Panther. Harper spent time playing closer to the box in Ryan's defense last year, and Ball seemed to be lining up in a similar position at times this week. DL Akiem Hicks looks to take the next step in his young career.
-Akiem Hicks and Cameron Jordan look like they are primed to make more good things happen in 2014. Once Jenkins returns, the Saints' defensive line should be in good shape heading into preseason.
All in all, the defense had another fine week, while the defensive backs, in general, stood out once again.
Shayne Graham brought a sense of stability to the Saints late last year following the up-and-down performance of former Kicker Garrett Hartley. Graham appears to have the inside track on assuming kicking duties for New Orleans in 2014. His competition, Derek Dimke, has never appeared in an NFL game, although the former Illinois kicker performed well during the week.
In other news, Thomas Morstead is still cooler than you or I will ever be.
One More Round
The Saints have one more slate of OTAs to go before officially putting a ribbon on their 2014 offseason program. The four-day session kicks off Monday, June 16, and will wrap up on Thursday, June 19. As mentioned above, first-round draft pick Brandin Cooks is expected to be in attendance for the first time since rookie minicamp last month.
Don't Forget Graham Grievance
While his teammates will be on the practice field for the final stage of their offseason workouts, Jimmy Graham will be in a court room contesting his franchise tag designation. The tight end, who was tagged by New Orleans at that position, hopes that an independent third-party arbitrator will side with him in an attempt to be tagged as a wideout. The league's management council is expected to make a strong case on behalf of the Saints, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out. If Graham wins, he will be paid over $5 million more than he would earn under the tag as a tight end. Whatever the outcome, both sides have until July 15 to work out a long-term contract, or else Graham can only play in 2014 under the terms of a one-year pact.
Until Next Time...
As you can see, next week appears to have plenty in store for Saints fans both on and off the field. We will keep you informed of any and all updates as they come.