We’re fast approaching the third preseason game which has been treated as a the ‘dress rehearsal’ game for the regular season for a long time across the NFL. This will be the first game where Cameron Jordan, Mark Ingram, Adrian Peterson, and of course Drew Brees will play their first snaps of the preseason. This game will have a lot of importance, but in the end will also just be one of practice games or ‘scrimmages’ as teams prepare for the real thing. With that said through three games and several weeks of camp there have been some noticeable trends (some good…some not so much) that I’d like to draw attention to as we enter the final two weeks of the preseason.
1: Alvin Kamara
Alvin Kamara looks like he may not only be the player the Saints thought they were getting, he may just be better. Many fans were of the opinion that Kamara would be used primarily as a receiving back in the vein of former Saint Darren Sproles time here. That may well eventually prove to be the way things turn out, but what the Saints have been busy testing/proving over the first two games is whether Kamara can serve the function of a more traditional between the tackles runner. The answer has been a resounding success. Alvin Kamara has shown vision, power, balance, and speed and has looked like a guy who could not only be a weapon for the Saints, but a feature back in the future.
2: The Linebackers
The Saints made a concerted effort to improve the linebacking core over the offseason. They wanted to not only get faster in the unit, but to add instinctual players who are consistently in the right place at the right time. So far so good in both regards. AJ Klein has been exactly as advertised acting as a heat seeking missile in the run game, and being an all around useful asset in all other fazes of the game as well. Manti Te’o has been a much greater asset than originally expected as he’s been fast, highly effective going downhill, and has provided a stabilizing presence in the middle. The true wild card has been and will be Alex Anzalone, the rookie 3rd round pick has at times looked like the kind of fast, explosive, playmaking linebacker the team has needed for years. He is of course a rookie and will be up and down, but if Anzalone and the rest of the linebackers can maintain the play they have shown through the preseason they may not be a great unit, but they’ll be a solid one. That’s huge for a defense desperately trying to improve.
3: The Pass rush
There is no question that this is the most pleasant surprise of the offseason. Going into this year the single largest need the team had was for the pass rush to be better, in particular it was the defensive end position opposite Pro Bowl DE Cameron Jordan. Through 2 games the Saints have racked up 12 sacks, 2.5 of which come from rookie 6th round pick Al-Quadin Muhammad. The Saints pass rush has been swarming and multiple and the push has come from both the interior and exterior. It must be noted that they have yet to face a pair of starting left tackles, but regardless the Saints pass rush has looked impressive and consistent to this point. Going forward we will need to see how the unit performs against higher levels of competition, but the emergence of Muhammad and the revival of Hau’oli Kikaha have given us that most precious of attributes…hope.