The New Orleans Saints effectively brought down the curtains on their 2014 training camp, which began just over a month ago in West Virginia and ended with a spirited practice back at the team's facility in Metairie yesterday.
The Saints finished their preparations for the fourth and final preseason tilt against the Baltimore Ravens, which will kick off Thursday night at 7 p.m. inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The team also made a spate of cuts, waiving 11 players in order to meet Tuesday afternoon's 75-man roster limit.
Here is a recap of this week's events from Saints' camp:
With Tuesday's deadline to get to 75 players looming, the Saints made a wave of cuts before practice, releasing LB Victor Butler, LB Kevin Reddick, DE Rufus Johnson, DE George Uko, CB Rod Sweeting, QB Logan Kilgore, TE Travis Beckum, and OL Manase Foketi. Meanwhile, WR Andy Tanner, OL Ty Nsekhe and S Ty Zimmerman were waived/injured, and will revert to the team's injured reserve list.
The group was headlined by Butler, who signed with the Saints last season in hopes of becoming a cornerstone of Rob Ryan's new 3-4 scheme. Butler played for Ryan in Dallas, where he thrived in a reserve role as a pass-rush specialist. He had hoped to take on a bigger role in New Orleans, but his season came to an end in 2013 OTAs when a collision with teammate Mark Ingram left him with a torn ACL. Butler rehabbed his injury and had hoped to make his long-awaited impact on the team's defense in 2014, but was slowed by an ankle injury throughout training camp. Coach Sean Payton expressed his disappointment for Butler on Tuesday.Victor Butler had hoped to make an impact with the Saints after a lost 2013 season.
“It’s always difficult, especially when a player doesn’t have a chance to put his best foot forward," Payton said. "You just hope they get another opportunity and get another chance.”
Reddick's release came as somewhat of a surprise, as he had thrived as a special teams ace for the Saints last season. He became surplus to requirements thanks to the depth that New Orleans has been able to compile at the linebacker spots. Sweeting and Johnson, a former 6th-round draft pick, also spent time on the active roster last season, but are now in search of new teams. Beckum had been signed two weeks ago to add an extra practice body, and faced long odds of making it to the 53-man roster.
Baby Daddy: Act IV
After missing practice Monday in order to be with his pregnant wife, quarterback Drew Brees was in attendance and working out Tuesday following the birth of his 4th child. Brees and his wife, Brittany, welcomed their first baby girl Monday evening. The couple already has three boys.
"Brit and her are healthy, happy, everybody’s doing great. It just melted my heart to watch her being born last night. I actually got to take the snap, so to speak, catch her on the way out. So that’s a memory I’ll have forever," Brees said.
Brees, who has battled an oblique injury throughout training camp, is unlikely to play in tomorrow's game, though he and most starters rarely take part in the preseason finale.
As of Tuesday's practice, WR Kenny Stills, FB Erik Lorig, S Rafael Bush, S Marcus Ball, and LB Khairi Fortt all remained out of practice, while CB Trevin Wade was limited. Stills appeared to reaggravate the quad injury which has troubled him since training camp opened last month, having been forced from last weekend's 23-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts. Lorig continues to deal with a leg injury that could threaten his status for the season. Bush is expected back soon. Fortt, a rookie 4th-round pick who battled injuries throughout his collegiate career, could be a candidate for injured reserve and a glorified "redshirt" year if he can not recover in time for final cuts.
- As training camp battles enter their final stages, the competition for the kicking job in New Orleans has been one to watch throughout the summer. Both Shayne Graham and Derek Dimke have been neck-and-neck throughout the offseason program, and, perhaps summing up the contest, both players went 5-7 during Tuesday's practice which was held outdoors in windy conditions. This battle will come down to the wire, and will almost certainly be decided by which kicker performs better in Thursday's game.
Speaking on the competition, Payton said he was sure that no matter which kicker comes out on top, the other won't be out of work for too long.
“I say this: Both of them are going to be kicking this season. I think other teams see us as a place that has a kicker possibly that is good enough to play for them,” the Saints' coach said.
- In another intriguing camp battle, it seems as though veteran Jonathan Goodwin has all but locked up the starting center job. Goodwin has appeared to pip youngster Tim Lelito, having taken the majority of the snaps with the 1's over the last week.
- Speaking of battles for precious final roster spots, WR Joe Morgan may have saved his best for last, turning in a fine effort Tuesday. Morgan, who missed last season with a knee injury, made a spectacular diving grab on a long pass from Brees, while also reeling in a tough grab during team drills. With Stills battling his quad injury, the Saints may be forced to carry an extra receiver, and Morgan could find himself in pole position to grab that spot. His speed remains a useful asset, and he does have knowledge of the team's offense, having thrived as a deep threat during the 2012 season in which he posted an absurd 37.9 yards per catch.Now healthy, Joe Morgan is hoping to pick up where his 2012 season left off, as a promising deep threat.
- The defensive backs continued to shine, as Terrence Frederick, Brian Dixon, Vinnie Sunseri and Patrick Robinson all stod out Tuesday. Rookie Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Jairus Byrd and Kenny Vaccaro have also been making plays all over the field in recent days, as the team's secondary is now at full-strength following the return of Byrd and Champ Bailey.
Robinson, in particular, has had a strong camp, bouncing back from the knee injury which cut his 2013 season short after just two games. The team's 2010 first-round pick has a strong chance to start and feature heavily opposite Keenan Lewis, though Bailey is also likely to be in the mix. Robinson had been troubled by a hamstring problem in recent days, but is fit again and ready to make an impact in Ryan's defense, which is looking as strong as ever.
- One constant force throughout training camp on defense has been Junior Galette. Galette and teammate Brandon Deaderick have been consistent nuisances in practices and preseason games, and Galette made a nice play as he sniffed out a screen to Brandin Cooks. Deaderick, meanwhile, continues to be sprinkled in with the first-team defense, and could be closing in on a roster spot.Business as usual for Brandin Cooks...the rookie keeps making plays at Saints camp.
- As for your daily Brandin Cooks update, the rookie quickly bounced back from his busted screen play by taking yet another designed quick pass play to the house. Cooks reeled in a bubble screen from Luke McCown and shot through the middle of the defense en-route to the end zone.
- Cooks' fellow rookie wideout Brandon Coleman has also been coming on throughout training camp. The undrafted free agent out of Rutgers drew praise from his coaches during practice after a fingertip grab in the back of the end zone, while also showcasing competent perimeter blocking ability. The 6-6 220 Coleman is hoping to earn a roster spot, and will need to put on a big show against the Ravens on Thursday to aid his chances in doing so.
Camp Over, Ravens Next
The Saints will hold a closed-door walk through this afternoon ahead of tomorrow's contest with Baltimore. With final roster spots and places on the practice squad up for grabs, every rep will count, especially given the fact that most of the starters will be rested, allowing those on the fringes and the outside looking in to get even more work.
Payton said that all aspects of the game will be evaluated, including competitiveness.
"Internally once they are here it is easier to measure, it is easier to measure their responses because it is not just from a 20 foot camera, it’s things that even you guys would hear and see and observe, that we would hear, see and observe, but there is a high value on that I think just as there is on intelligence," he said. "I think (competitiveness) is extremely important. And it is also on us to create those environments. It is okay to have winners and losers.”
All NFL teams must trim their rosters down from 75 to 53 by Saturday afternoon.