May 29, 2014; Metairie, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan during organized team activities at the New Orleans Saints Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints Training Camp - Questions That Need Answers

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Jan 4, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Darren Sproles (43) carries the ball during the first quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles during the 2013 NFC wild card playoff football game at Lincoln Financial Field. The Saints defeated the Eagles 26-24. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

When OTAs launched for the New Orleans Saints, I wrote an article around some questions that should have been on everyone’s mind entering the start of things. We may only be a little less than a month away, but I’m back with my training camp edition of questions we should all have.

Which player(s) should we look for to turn in some big things? What position battles will be decided?

I believe the players that are on the roster bubble will need to show some tremendous things in training camp. The competitions at wide receiver, linebacker, kicker, and cornerback position seem to be the most intriguing areas to watch.

With that being said, let’s start with the wide receivers. I look for players like Andy Tanner, Steve Hull, Charles Hawkins, Seantavius Jones, and Brandon Coleman to give everything that they possibly can to make it interesting for the wide receiver depth chart. Marques Colston is likely not going to risk aggravating his foot injury, despite claiming that he’s feeling 100%. It’s an incredible opportunity for these players to make the roster decisions tough. Tanner is my obvious front-runner.

As for the linebacker position, it’s more of who will back up Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne, Junior Galette, and Victor Butler/Parys Haralson. There’s fifteen total players listed on the Saints depth chart at the linebacker position. Anyone that thinks having too many talented linebackers is a bad thing, see Seattle, San Francisco, and what happened to the New Orleans Saints in last year’s training camp. The returning faces of Keyunta Dawson, Rufus Johnson, Kevin Reddick, Ramon Humber, and Kyle Knox do not seem safe with the incoming injection of talent. Look for us to find out fairly quickly about Todd Davis, Khairi Fortt, Ronald Powell, Kasim Edebali, and Chidera Uzo-Diribe.

When we talk about the secondary for the New Orleans Saints, all of the focus shifts to the cornerback position. I believe Champ Bailey has a solid lock on the number two position. With Keenan Lewis lining up opposite of Bailey as the number one corner, we’re not quite sure who will be backing them up, handling slot duties and nickel corner coverage. Corey White, Rod Sweeting, and Patrick Robinson do have a leg up over the younger players. Terrence Frederick and Trevin Wade were also on the team’s roster last year, but could feel pressure from the slew of rookies: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Derek Strozier, and Brian Dixon. Derrius Brooks, who was signed from the Canadian Football League, will be another interesting prospect to keep your eyes on.

As for the kicker position, I’ve touched on this. I believe this is where Derek Dimke will distance himself from Shayne Graham, but it’s ultimately on him.

On a final note, I believe with undrafted rookie tight end Je’Ron Hamm turning some heads, he could actually put some pressure on second year player, Josh Hill.

Are John Jenkins, Joe Morgan, and Jairus Byrd going to be healthy?

By the starting point of training camp in West Virginia, we may not see these three suit up on the field. Ultimately, there’s not much of a need to throw them in a preseason game early, but I would worry more if we don’t see them suit up by the third preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts (8/23). I’m sure they will be limited in training camp activities, but look at this more of a precaution going into the season. Of the bunch, Joe Morgan has the most to prove.

Who will distance themself as the Darren Sproles replacement?

When the news was announced that running back Darren Sproles was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles, it was met with a very mixed bag of emotions from Who Dat Nation. Sproles was a fan favorite among many, and it certainly came as a shock when the move was announced. Sadly, the Sproles saga ended on a sour note, but we can appreciate what he did in his three seasons with the New Orleans Saints.

As the season approaches, we sit and wonder: Is Darren Sproles really replaceable? The question seems rhetorical, as any player in today’s NFL is replaceable. However, the better question is: How will the Saints replace Darren Sproles?

With some help from KFFL and Pro Football Reference, here’s some stats for Darren Sproles, and specifically looking at the production by year.

Category
2011
2012
2013
Targets135104102
Average Targets/Game7.586
Total Plays235152162
Receptions1057580
Receiving Yards710667604
Rushing Yards603244220
Touchdowns10*84
Punt Return Yards294183194
Kick Return Yards1,089483255

*One touchdown scored off a punt return.

 

We’re already familiar with the cast of returning running backs on the Saints roster, but in case you forgot them, that crew would be:
Pierre Thomas (8th year), Mark Ingram (4th year), Travaris Cadet (3rd year), and Khiry Robinson (2nd year). There was also the addition of undrafted rookie running back, Tim Flanders, who is another potential candidate that can make a case to be used in place of Darren Sproles.

Drew Brees has stated that rookie wide receiver, Brandin Cooks, could fill the Sproles role.

“Even though Darren Sproles played the running back position, we were creative with him,” Brees told USA TODAY Sports. “We did a lot of things with him out of the backfield. We’d split him out. We’d throw him screens. We’d do all kinds of stuff with him. So, that role can be filled by maybe even a receiver.

I’ve talked about Tim Flanders before, and I’m fairly high on the Sam Houston State prospect. I believe the Saints will test a mix of Cooks, Flanders, Strozier, and Cadet to see how well they are able to handle the ‘Sproles-like’ play calls. I further believe that the opening preseason game against the St. Louis Rams (8/8) will be an excellent test for the younger players.

There are always hundreds of questions to come up with when you talk about a football and a month from now, but that’s just part of the joy of being so close to the football season. For now, we’ll just have to sit and wait.

What areas potentially ‘concern’ you as we approach training camp? Who do you see emerging as a player that can crack the 53-man roster that wasn’t on last year’s roster? Let us know below! 

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