Well Saints fans, the time is here. The time we have all waited so patiently, or impatiently, for. The Black and Gold will lace up the cleats, put on the pads and walk out on the field for an actual football game. Granted, not a “real” football game but a football game nonetheless. The Saints have a had another wild offseason which saw the likes of Joe Vitt, Bill Johnson and Greg McMahon fired. Nick Fairly extended only to be out for the season, and probably indefinitely. Drew Brees entering the final year of a contract, AGAIN, with no extension. And a solid draft and free agent class preparing for their Saints debut, one of which includes a first ballot hall of famer trying to restore his career in Adrian Peterson.
Yes, football is back and we couldn’t be happier. As training camp has begun questions have arisen. Who will step up to replace the production of Nick Fairly? Who will be the starting linebackers? Will the Saints miss Brandin Cooks? Who will fill in for Armstead? And can the Saints secondary stay healthy? All great questions and this week’s game will go a long way in helping to answer some of those questions. I, for one, and super pumped to see the 2017 edition of the Saints to walk out on to the field and when they do there will be a few things I will be looking to watch.
- Can the Saints actually win a preseason football game?
Ready for a crazy statistic?? The Saints have not won a preseason game since August 23, 2014. The Saints went winless in both 2016 and 2015 both season they went 7-9 in the regular season. They did, however, go 3-1 in the 2014 preseason while also going 7-9 in the regular season. So preseason games have little to do with how the team will actually perform in the regular season. But getting a win would do wonders for the morale of the team, which has shaped up to be a pretty young Saints team. Sean Payton and Drew Brees are very competitive and I am sure they will come out ready to play verse the Browns.
- Quarterback competition.
It is no secret that this preseason will be make or break for the Saints 2015 3rd round pick Garrett Grayson. Grayson needs to take every opportunity to show the Saints that he could be the heir to Drew Brees. Personally, I don’t think the heir to Drew Brees is on the roster today but Grayson has the opportunity to show what he can do and he must seize it and leave it all on the field. Chase Daniel has the leg up on Grayson, having been in the Sean Payton offense prior to stops in Kansas City and Philadelphia. The Saints wanted to get a little younger and healthier at the backup quarterback position so they brought Daniel back to replace Luke McCowen who started to have some question marks last season in regards to his health. Both players must show Payton that they will be capable of filling in for Brees should he go down for any amount of time. As for Brees, I do not expect him to play. If he does, I would be shocked if its more than one series. Don’t forget that Greg Williams is now the DC in Cleveland and he would love nothing more than to pull out all the blitz packages against a makeshift offensive line and get revenge for the beat down the Sean Payton and the Saints gave his Rams defense last year. Lion King anyone?
Through the first two weeks of training camp the Saints have mixed up their linebackers and who plays where. I am eager to see this on full display Thursday night. Can Anthony bounce back and live up to his potential? Payton has made it clear that he wants Anthony to be able to win the starting job but he must prove that he is capable. But he will also have another linebacker on the field that could give him his biggest hurdle in Alex Anzalone. Reports from camp have been positive and I am excited to see him in action.
- Will Cam Jordan EVER have help on the opposite side of the line??
The Saints have struggled to find a pass rusher to compliment Cam Jordan for years. One has to wonder how awful the pass rush would be had they not drafted him. And 2017 will see a new group of guys trying to fill that void. One name that isn’t new is Kikaha. Kikaha is returning from his THIRD ACL tear and the fact that he is still playing football is crazy to me. Reports from camp show that he is having a solid camp so far and making a push for the starting position. At this point I would expect Okafor to be the starter but with four preseason games ahead of him, Kikaha has a chance to show that he can still be as effective as he was in college when he set the record for most sacks in college football.
- Jesus, can the Corners stay healthy?
Breaux and Lattimore are almost defiantly not going to play so PJ Williams and Ken Crawley will probably be your starters. And for the love of God can they please not get hurt!!! Crawley stood out in training camp last year as a UDFA forcing the Saints to make room for him on the 53 man roster. What the Saints didn’t expect was for him to be thrown into a starting role in 2016. As we all saw Crawley had some growing pains as should have been expected. But entering his second year reports have been very positive on the young corner. With Breaux, Lattimore and Williams all missing time recently it has giving Crawley a chance to show the Saints what he can bring to the table. Damien Swann showed some promise too but has had problems with concussions. One more and his career could be over. But I hope to see growth in Swann and this week will be his chance to prove the Saints must keep him on the roster.
- Defensive Line
With Nick Fairly out for the year it will be up to Sheldon Rankins and Co. to fill the void. Davison should continue to be solid against the run and plug the middle but the biggest two questions will be the progress of second year players Rankins and Onyemata. The Saints desperately need these two to build off their rookie season and continue to improve. Onyemata was seen as a project, well the Saints don’t have time for him to develop. They will need increased production and need it fast. Onyemata opened camp practicing with the first team but Davison has since replaced him. Like I said earlier, Davison is more of a run blocker and true nose tackle where Onyemata will make his mark getting after the quarterback.
All in all, the game should be a good indication of how the Saints have progressed since last season. Even though a win is ideal, rookies getting good reps in is more important. So, here’s a toast to the 2017 season, may the odds be ever in our favor.