The New Orleans Saints will bring their offseason workouts to an end this week, with one final slate of organized team activities set to begin on Monday. This four-day session, which will be closed to the public, concludes on Thursday, June 19. The Saints will not meet again until training camp opens July 24 at the Greenbrier Resoirt in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
Here are some notes and blurbs to set the table for this week's OTAs:
Welcome Back, Rook
Having been away from the team since rookie minicamp, first rounder Brandin Cooks will be present for the final round of OTAs this week. Cooks has been unable to participate due to the fact that his school, Oregon State, operates on a quarterly basis and did not hold its commencement ceremonies until just recently. Per league rules, players can not participate in offseason activities, rookie minicamps notwithstanding, until their schools have held their graduations.
While away, Cooks has been learning the playbook via "online courses." Saints coach Sean Payton said that coaches have been making time each night to discuss the playbook with their rookie over the internet. Online school: Brandin Cooks has been studying the Saints' playbook via the internet.
"What we've done is set aside an hour, hour-and-a-half each night and go online basically with him and have him go through the tape with our coach," Payton said. "We'll go through practice tape and go through the installation...So he'll be in this weekend and he'll be here Monday kind of getting caught up to speed as quickly as possible."
Cooks, who led the NCAA in receiving in 2013, should be poised for a big role in his rookie season.
Rufus On The Move Again
2013 sixth-rounder Rufus Johnson has been moved back to the defensive line over the course of the offseason. Johnson, who spent most of his rookie season on the team's practice squad as a reserve outside linebacker, is now seeing time at defensive tackle. The 6-5 272 Tarleton State alum will vie for a role at the three-technique in Rob Ryan's defensive sub-packages.
Johnson was a standout defensive end in college, and has spent most of his football career rushing the Quarterback in some form or fashion. Now, he will experience playing inside for the first time.
"I've always played on the edge," Johnson said. "This is my first time actually being down in the three-technique, down with the bigger guys."
Johnson was called up to the active roster for the divisional playoff game at Seattle, following Parys Harralson's season-ending pectoral injury. With a year under his belt, the athletic Johnson will hope to make an impression at his new spot throughout camp in an attempt to win a permanent place on the Saints' roster next season.
Eye On The Receivers
One of the more intriguing battles to watch in training camp will surely be at the receiver position. With Marques Colston, Kenny Stills and Brandin Cooks all locks to make the team, the final two spots (the Saints traditionally carry 5 WRs) will come down to a covey of talented, but somewhat unproven players.
Robert Meachem, Nick Toon, Joe Morgan and Andy Tanner will be among those fighting for just a couple of spots. Brandon Coleman, a priority undrafted free agent out of Rutgers, will compete along with Seantavius Jones and Steve Hull.
Meachem, the most proven of the bunch, has plenty of experience in the Saints' system and graded out as the team's best perimeter blocker last year among his fellow receivers. However, he is set to turn 30, and does not offer the upside of younger players such as Morgan or Toon. Can Robert Meachem keep his roster spot?
Morgan continues to round out his rehabilitation from a knee injury which ended his 2013 season prematurely. The speedster, who averaged an insane 37.9 yards per catch in 2012, has a history of knee issues and will need to enter camp as healthy as possible and stay at that level while finding a way to produce.
Toon may be the most interesting case, and could have the best chance of this group to snag a spot. Coming off a disappointing 2013 season, in which he was a healthy inactive more often than not, Toon has turned in an impressive offseason thus far, and recently drew praise from Payton.
"I would expect him to play a bigger role for our offense this season," Payton said. "He's doing well here in this offseason. His progress is important to us. With the loss of a number of players, particularly Lance Moore, I think you'll see more snaps for him and more opportunities."
Moore, who caught 37 passes for 457 yards and two touchdowns last year, is now with the Pittsbirgh Steelers. The search for a 4th receiver is noteworthy, as Drew Brees is willing and able to spread the ball around to all of his options.
If Toon can control the drops, stay healthy and continue to impress, the chance should be his for the taking.
Obligatory Kicking Scoop
Both Shayne Graham and Derek Dimke continue to kick well in practice. The pair of kickers seem set for a classic competition this summer. While the seasoned Graham, who replaced Garrett Hartley on the roster late in 2013, should have the edge, the team likes what they have seen from 24 year-old Dimke. Shayne Graham warms up before week 17's game against Tampa Bay.
Graham missed two kicks in poor conditions during the team's divisonal round loss at Seattle, but was a perfect 6-6 in his other three outings as a Saint. He was re-signed earlier this offseason.
Dimke has never appeared in an NFL game, but should the veteran Graham struggle in preseason, the former Illinois kicker could see a window of opportunity to make his mark. Nevertheless, Graham remains the heavy in-house favorite to man the position in 2014.
And yes, Thomas Morstead is still cooler than you will ever be.
Graham Grievance On Deck
Tuesday will mark the beginning of the grievance hearing filed by the NFLPA on behalf of Jimmy Graham. The Saints' franchise-tagged tight end will hope that an independent third-party arbitrator will side with him this week. Graham is hoping to be tagged as a receiver, where he would earn over $5 million more than the tight end tag would pay. Jimmy Graham's case will be heard June 17-18.
Graham's side will argue that he spent 67% of his snaps out wide or in the slot, thus operating as a receiver on most occasions. However, the Saints will receive strong backing from the league's management council who are expected to argue that Graham's stance is for purely financial reasons, and that he was drafted to play tight end.
The outcome of this case could end up being moot if the two sides can agree to terms on a long-term deal by July 15. If that does not happen, Graham can only play under a one-year deal in 2014. Graham is said to be seeking in excess of $10 million per season on a long-term deal, which would make him the NFL's highest-paid tight end, surpassing New England's Rob Gronkowski.
We'll have a recap of this situation as soon as the verdict is reached.
The Saints will look to close out their offseason on a good note this week. The team will break Thursday afternoon, and won't reunite until training camp begins July 24 in West Virginia.
Enjoy these next four days folks, because the final wave of Football withdrawal is about to come crashing down upon us.