Training camp is upon us and that means it is the season for wild speculation, camp heroes, and camp disasters. Between injuries, isolated highlight plays, reports of players winning (or losing) two or three positional battles, and the wild speculation that comes with an incredibly passionate fan base STARVING for success, there is going to be no end to the drama and the speculation over the next few months. As a fan as well as a writer I can’t wait to savor every tiny little morsel of information we get as we eagerly wait for preseason to start, but in the meantime there are some key areas we’ll be monitoring very closely throughout camp.
Item #1: The Running Backs
The Saints have a trio of running backs on the roster who can all be reasonably expected to be major contributors in 2017. Mark Ingram is coming off of the best year of his career and the first Saints season of over 1k yards rushing in a decade. Alvin Kamara is the Saints rookie who was picked in the 3rd round who could be a pleasant fusion of Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles. Now I’m using those two names more because of familiarity than because of a perfect match of skillsets, but the reality is that watching Kamara in college is like watching Pierre Thomas in fast forward. Kamara was brought in to be a weapon in the passing game the team hasn’t had for several years, and like PT once did Kamara has a chance to be an elite weapon for the team because he is capable of being a threat in the running and passing game BOTH.
To be perfectly honest I’ve very confident in the performance of both. Kamara has a balance and shiftiness that should bring an element of fear to the backfield offenses haven’t felt in a while. And while Mark Ingram will likely never get credit for being as good as he is, the fact is that Ingram has become a remarkably consistent and reliable component of the Saints offense. The element that will need to be monitored and closely watched is the other new addition to the Saints backfield, and the one that could change everything is Adrian Peterson.
The single biggest question of training camp could very well be whether or not Peterson has anything left in the tank. Peterson is a former league MVP, a back who rushed for 2000 yards, and one of the most explosive and athletically gifted players in the entire history of the NFL. If he can even be a fraction of the player he once was, he brings an element to the Saints roster they haven’t had in the Drew Brees/Sean Payton era. Whether he can still be that player is a total unknown, and whether he can be that player and be healthy is even more up in the air, but its something that we’ll be monitoring very closely as fans.
Item #2: Stephone Anthony
I made a ‘molten hot take’ on the most recent podcast saying Stephone Anthony will exceed the production of Danell Ellerbe of last year at the weakside linebacker position. That isn’t a position I’m willing to fight over at this point in time, especially after only 2 days of camp and zero in pads, however its something that has tremendous weight for the Saints outlook as a defense in 2017. Saints fans need look no further than throughout the division to know how impactful a young athletic linebacker can be to a defense. A player like that can turn bad plays in positive ones, and can turn what would be a disastrous play into just another first down for the opposition. If Stephone Anthony has finally ‘turned on the lights’ and found the ability to just react to the game around him and make the right reads, instead of having to think and hesitate, he could be a major difference maker for this roster.
There isn’t nearly the same impact in the opposite direction simply because the Saints defense had been so bad already there isn’t nearly as much room in the other direction. With that said Stephone Anthony’s gifts make him the most intriguing player on the entire defense in my opinion, and while it is VERY important to temper expectations after a few small flashes over two days of practice in shorts, the coming weeks will be very interesting. If he does finally start to live up to his potential it could have an enormous impact not just on his career, but the defense as a whole. This is something we’ll definitely be watching with great interest.
Item #3: The Rookies
Honestly this would make the list pretty much any year you decided to make one. The growth and development of your young players, and rookies in particular is always a major storyline in camp. However, in this year’s camp it will and should be even bigger than usual because the Saints have an unusual amount of rookies who will be expected to play major minutes, and play well. From Marshon Lattimore to Ryan Ramczyck to Alvin Kamara and finally to Marcus Williams, the Saints are expecting no less than 4 rookies to make major contributions right out of the gate. Now certainly there will be snap counts and not all of them will be expected to perform up to the exact same level, but the reality is that if the Saints want to make any kind of meaningful progress in 2017 they will likely need all 4 of those players to have a positive impact on the season. That is far from usual, but that is where we sit today. It’s going to be very interesting to see if they can rise to the occasion early in the year, and become the contributors the team needs them to be.