1. Running back Mark Ingram is the real deal. There is not just any other way to say it, he is going to make a serious impact with the Saints this season on the ground — bank on that. Everyone that his watched him practice has come out gushing about the former Heisman Trophy winner. NFL analyst Albert Breer labeled him “a future star” and NFC South guru Pat Yasinskas recently watched him practice noting how impressive he was during his visit. Everyone has an opinion to how much the Saints plan on utilizing Ingram his rookie season, but if the amount of reps he is getting in practice with the first string offense are any indication, Ingram is set for a very large role to say the least.
2. Full back is becoming one of the best positions battles to watch. The Saints decided to part way with veteran full back Heath Evans this off-season, not extending him a new contract of any kind. His position needs to be filled, and not only is it important for a full back to block well, in Sean Payton’s offense they must also catch the ball out of the backfield with ease. Korey Hall was brought in from the Packers and the Saints returned practice squad player Jed Collins to compete. The two are currently splitting reps with the first team offense and both are receiving high praise from head coach Sean Payton. Hall is the current favorite to become the teams new starter, but don’t count out Collins who is fighting fot a roster spot.
3. OLB Will Herring emerging as an early favorite to start at strong side linebacker. There are an army of linebackers on the Saints roster competing for playing time — Martez Wilson, Jonathan Casillas, Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Nate Bussey, Ramon Humber, Clint Ingram, Scott Shanle — but Herring seems to be edging out the competition as his playing time with the starters continues to increase. He was another one of the Saints free agent signings this year, spending four seasons prior with the Seahawks, where he was drafted in the fifth round but used primarily in a backup role. The Saints are high on Herring’s consistency and his football IQ, which may he his best asset as he is able to quickly diagnose opposing offenses. Veteran Danny Clark was released yesterday, another testament to the teams growing confidence in Herring’s ability to become a starter.
4. Lance Moore and Jimmy Graham catch almost everything thrown their way. Graham received plenty of attention this off-season after becoming the teams starting replacement to Jeremy Shockey after his release. The second year tight end has all the physical attributes to be successful — 6 foot 8 and rocked up with serious speed — and most will tell you he should be in for a breakout season in 2011. Receiver Lance Moore is as reliable as they come and was rewarded as such with a new lucrative long term contract to remain with the Saints. Last season he led the team in touchdown receptions with eight, but it looks like this year he could be challenged by Graham to repeat for that honor.
5. New acquisition Darren Sproles keeps turning in the big play. It’s ironic that the Saints signed Sproles hours after trading away Reggie Bush, made even more impressive as most would agree he is an upgrade over Bush at a cheaper price. Everyday it seems like reports from training camp makes mention of Sproles turning in splash plays as a runner and receiver. We watched him turn in big plays during his time with the Chargers, and he certainly passes the eyeball test as member of the Saints. Payton will utilize him much like he did Bush, involving him in several different packages and on special teams. Look for big things from the little man this season.
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