December 1, 2012; Morgantown, WV, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers running back Shawne Alston (20) rushes the ball against the Kansas Jayhawks during the first quarter at Milan Puskar Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
The NFL Draft is over and free agency is all dried up until the summer. The Saints might just have all of their future 53 players on the roster, barring any few pickups after the first roster cuts in August. Considering all of the new and old players on a pretty bad defense and the turnover of some players on the offense, it can be guaranteed that many positions are up for grabs. Safety, nose tackle, left tackle, wide receiver, outside linebacker, and cornerback are all fairly obvious choices. But what about the other 15 positions on the field? If you did the math, there are actually 16 other positions. Drew Brees will always be a given until proven injured beyond use. Even backup spots are treasured positions to have for the Saints. However, all of the other spots besides Brees’s are never guaranteed, as most coaches famously paraphrase. Here are some positions I think are under-the-radar battles before September:
Yeah, this battle is heating up a little with news of how impressed Rob Ryan is with Jonathan Vilma’s work in the weight room. Curtis Lofton is surely a given, barring any major setback or surprise. Vilma, David Hawthorne, Kevin Reddick, and Chris Chamberlain are probably the main contenders at the other inside backer spot. But this position could get interesting considering rotational players. In the past, the Saints have kept players like Lofton and Vilma in for most downs. Keeping these guys fresh is important and rotating players in and out is key. Vilma and Hawthorne will surely switch back and forth but behind them, I don’t see the Saints keeping more than one player. Reddick or Chamberlain will be shown the door, and considering the versatility of Chamberlain and Reddick’s high pre-draft grade, this will be an interesting battle.
Fourth Running Back
Seems like a stretch to even include a position like this as a battle. But with the injuries the Saints have endured in the past to the position, and the different talents each back can offer, this position has become important. It is where Chris Ivory found a spot before he was shipped off to the Jets. Travaris Cadet currently holds this spot, right behind Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas, and Mark Ingram. However, he needs to stay on his game. Shawne Alston, a short-yardage specialist for the West Virginia Mountaineers, fits with what the Saints found with Ivory, Lynell Hamilton, and Mike Bell in the past. Might not seem like much but, if Cadet fails to impress, Alston might just surprise some fans.
Another position starting to get some of the spotlight, but still a little underrated, is the right tackle position. The Saints have drafted Terron Armstead and have Jason Smith, Charles Brown, Marcel Jones, Bryce Harris, and Zach Strief on the roster. That is a lot of tackles for the Saints. While many keep their eyes on the left tackle position, Smith has had much experience on the right side and Jones has been worked on the right side. Strief, the incumbent right tackle, should sleep with one eye open with the talent he has behind him.
Finally, there is the punt and kick return positions. Courtney Roby is retained and will be given a chance to steal back one of these positions from Darren Sproles. However, don’t rule out the younsters the Saints have on the roster now. If Joe Morgan loses his starting position, or if guys like Kenny Stills fail to impress, don’t be surprised if these guys get some work on special teams. It will be interesting to see if the Saints want to scale back Sproles’s work at returner and keep him more on the field on offense. Keep an eye on this one folks.
Needless to say, we will have new players at safety, cornerback, wide receiver, left tackle, and most of the defensive front seven, even in a rotational role. But there is more than one way to earn a living in the NFL on the field. The Saints stunk it up last year and with major disappointment comes changes, even to unseen positions.