This Friday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome won’t simply be just any typical Pre-Season game; at least not for me anyway. No, no; it’ll be a whole lot more than just the Saints vs.Titans. It will my long-anticipated return after an emotionally painful and prolonged absence, to my beloved hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana; via an Air Tran Airlines flight from Atlanta by way of Indianapolis, Indiana (where I now live).
Friday night’s Week#2 Pre-Season contest will actually be my first game back in New Orleans since the magical season of 2006; the year the team returned to a re-opened Superdome after Katrina and Sean Payton and Drew Brees’ first years with the Saints (a year that took them all the way to the NFC Championship Game). The anticipation is nearly killing me, and as I type this; I can’t help but just think of the 5 Things I Want to See in “Living Color” for the Saints vs. Titans.
5. He’s not the Pope — but he IS a Bishop :
Several of the guys that I play Fantasy Football with in one of my Leagues thought I was insane for drafting a rookie RB in the early rounds, when I selected the Titans’ Bishop Sankey from the Huskies of the University of Washington. I personally believe Sankey will be the AFC Rookie of the Year, in the same way I believe Brandin Cooks will be the choice in the NFC for the Saints. Sankey is a dynamic athlete like Cooks, in that he runs fast with a quick burst ; but he’s also very powerful, too (think of a younger Darren Sproles just with alot more power). When the Titans selected him with the 54th overall pick in second round of this past May’s NFL draft, it immediately made him a threat to win the starting job ahead of the ‘workhorse’ (and much slower) Shonn Greene.
Sankey got plenty of touches in his Titans debut against the Packers on Saturday night, with both Greene and free-agent offseason signee Dexter McCluster (formerly of Ole Miss and the Chiefs) sitting out after the first quarter. It took awhile for Sankey to get going once he took the field with the second unit, but he found his groove in the third quarter and finished off his night with a five-yard TD reception. It’s clear (at least to me anyway, and probably to every Titans fan in Nashville , too) that Sankey has the most potential, both in real life and fantasy football, of any Titans running back — and the rookie certainly didn’t hurt his case with Saturday night’s performance. I can’t wait for him to validate my faith in him , despite the risk of breaking one of Fantasy Football’s “golden rules” (I sure didn’t win five Fantasy Football championships by being conservative, believe that).
4. Will We be Able to Feel the Brees?
Much has been made about Brees’ strained oblique muscle, which has limited him in practice at Greenbrier for the last two weeks and forced him to miss the Rams game at St. Louis. Head coach Sean Payton is obviously just taking a cautious approach, allowing the veteran and future Hall of Famer to properly rest and heal the injury so it didn’t turn into something more serious. In the last several days, Brees has been seen working off to the side during team drills, and he’s been doing just a little bit more every day in preparation to be ready for the time when it truly matters the most: the Season Opener on September 7th at the Geogia Dome in Atlanta.
There’s a chance that Brees may see action for a series or two to open the game, just as there’s an equally as good of a chance that he won’t play at all. Either way, I’d much rather see the team being over-cautious with the 35 year old living legend, rather than being foolish and try to bring him back too soon. I can live with seeing more of Ryan Griffin, who has been most impressive and looks to have an edge on the number #2 job as the back-up to Brees. I couldn’t have been any more wrong on my analysis of a player, than I have been on Griffin. He has certainly silenced his critics like myself with his performance thus far, and as a Saints fan and not a writer — I’m very happy to see him do it.
3. Me and Mettenberger:
I won’t be the only one who will be having a “homecoming” at the Superdome this coming Friday night. Former LSU QB Zach Mettenberger will make his first return to the state of Louisiana since playing the last two years as the starting QB for the Tigers; as a 3rd-string QB for the Titans. Mettenberger completed three passes for 71 yards on the final drive to lead Tennessee to a come-from-behind 20-16 win over Green Bay. He even displayed some “moxie” that honestly, I didn’t think he had in himself. Yet, from watching the tape, it’s clear that Mettenbeger will have a future in the NFL. But it didn’t look it would happen that way initially, when Mettenberger struggled early in the game.
After a disastrous start, including a lost fumble (albeit a wet ball from a torrential downpour) and an interception, the rookie quarterback eventually settled down and guided the game-winning drive that featured a long completion to young TE Chase Coffman, and an equally impressive nice throw across the middle to veteran WR Brian Robiskie. I was almost floored by the that way Mettenberger waited patiently in the pocket before delivering the strike — something I don’t recall him doing during his time in Baton Rouge. Those consecutive plays put the Titans on the Packers’ nine yard line., and then two plays later, RB Jackie Battle put the finishing touches on the drive with a seven-yard touchdown run, giving Mettenberger the first notch in his belt as a pro. He’ll likely be facing the Saints 3rd string defense by the point in the game that he sees action on Friday night however, so maybe I won’t actually get TOO excited.
2. The Young Studs (No — not THOSE kind of young studs!)
Considering that just a few months ago some observers were suggesting that the Saints were getting “a little long in the tooth”, the sudden rise of several very talented young players has not only brought a palpable sense of giddy excitement to the WhoDat Nation, but has re-established (in my eyes) the Saints as a legitimate threat to win the NFC and go to play at Glendale, Arizona in Super Bowl XLIX. Names on offense like rookie Brandin Cooks (I’ll get to him in a minute), 2nd year OT Terron Armstead, RB Khiry Robinson — heck, even free-agent TE Josh Hill, are just a few that I want to see play in the Superdome on Friday night.
The Saints’ defensive line though is the spot where I believe the team has undergone the most significant transformation, with the sudden emergence of three — count’em — THREE outstanding young DE’s in 3rd year veterans Akiem Hicks and Tyrunn Walker; and 2nd year man Glen Foster. Now with the returning 2nd year NT John Jenkins returning to anchor the middle of that line, you suddenly now have one of the most talented D-Lines in the entire NFL. I haven’t been THIS excited by a group of Saints defensive players since Rickey Jackson and the Dome Patrol linebackers of the late 80′s and early 90′s. These guys have a chance to be something truly special, and I can’t wait to see them all take that “next step” on the path to stardom.
1. “Lightning” Strikes — Indoors
For those who have been following me on Twitter and also when I previously wrote for another site, they know just how much I shamelessly gushed over Oregon State All-American WR Brandin Cooks prior to this past May’s NFL Draft. As I’ve mentioned in several of my previous columns / articles, Saints and NFL Draft expert Mike Detillier was the one who revealed that the Saints would likely be looking for a dynamic WR to be a game-changing and difference-making play maker — and he predicted then (in late January) that the Saints would take a serious look at grabbing Cooks if he were still available (which he was when they traded up with Arizona to snag him). I’ve been on the Cooks bandwagon ever since; and based on what we’ve seen from him so far, it’s going to be one fantastic ride.
The young man recently dubbed by Saints CB Keenan Lewis as “Lightning” because of his ridiculous quickness and ability to shift himself into a sudden burst of near warp speed; will have opposing defensive coordinators across the League pulling their hair out trying to figure out how to handle a player who is equally impressive as a former track and field star as he is a football player. Friday night Cooks (also nicknamed originally as “Sonic Boom” because of those same accomplishments in track and field) caught five passes for 55 yards and one score, and he displayed sure hands, great speed and some ‘top-notch’ run after the catch skills. He also played every WR position within the Saints offense, including being lined up in the slot — offering a glimpse of what head coach Sean Payton has in store for the upcoming season. I’m not afraid to say that Cooks may be (potentially) the MOST EXCITING Saints player that I’ve EVER seen in over 40 years of following this team since I was a little kid; and I’m just as excited about seeing how Cooks will impact the Saints for the next several years going forward……