There are only two more days until the New Orleans Saints can truly say that their season has begun. It’s been a long time coming, but we will finally get to see our team dressed up in that beautiful black and gold, and playing in real live action. Of course, this is still the preseason. So, there is only going to be so much time that we will get to see the starters play. Personally, I actually like that; I know to a degree what I’m going to get from them (or at least what we’re supposed to see), but the young guys I am much less certain. That is why I am giving you my 5 players to watch On Thursday against the Baltimore Ravens.
No. 5: Stephone Anthony, Inside ‘Mike’ Linebacker
Anthony has truly been one of the stars of the offseason and the Saints desperately need him to live up to his immense potential, and quickly. Anthony has all of the physical tools to be a game changing player for this defense, but ‘tools’ only get you so far. At the end of the day, production is always king in the NFL. That’s why Anthony is one of the players I am going to be watching the closest on Thursday.
He has all the tools. Personally, I have a ton of faith in the young stud out of Clemson, however he has to prove he belongs. Stephone Anthony isn’t just trying to make the roster or secure a starting spot. He is trying to secure the starting middle linebacker position, the leader of the defense. That’s a ton of pressure to put on a such a young guy and there is ONLY one way for him to do it…prove you belong.
The veterans on the team will only respect a player who goes out and proves he belongs among them, but they will also bust their butts and follow someone who does. The game is all about production and winning, and if Anthony can begin to prove on Thursday that he belongs among them they will follow. The expectations both within the locker room and among us fans couldn’t be higher, and Thursday is his first chance to prove he can live up to them.
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No. 4: Max Unger, Center
Under normal circumstances having a player of Unger’s caliber on a preseason ‘players to watch’ list would be nothing short of a slap in the face. However, there is no position group in football that is more representative of the term ‘unit’ than the offensive line. My questions about Unger have nothing to do with his personal ability or acumen as a player. He is a pro bowler and a Super Bowl champion, and thus at this point in his career his qualifications to be the team’s starter are beyond contestation.
What is questionable is how quickly he has been able to mesh with his teammates along the offensive line. Unger’s individual ability will be very important, but an offensive line truly has to be five guys who are ‘of one body and one mind’. They move as a unit, and they either succeed or fail as a unit. I will be watching very closely to see how Unger’s addition to the offensive line affects the overall play there both as an individual and as a unit.
I honestly believe that the Saints at worst broke even on the Jimmy Graham trade, but that is only true if Unger is able to be the same player here that he was in Seattle. Conclusions cannot be drawn from a single preseason game, however if the unit has already begun to mesh and play well together, it’s an excellent sign. I’m hoping to see that on Thursday, but I’m prepared to have to temper my expectations until later.
No. 3: Brandon Coleman, Wide Receiver
No single player on the Saints roster received more hype during the first week of training camp than Brandon Coleman. The second year pro out of Rutgers possesses great size (6’6″, 225 lbs) that makes him an interesting prospect, but now going into his second season he seems to have significantly polished his game. Coleman has improved tremendously as a route runner, and uses his body naturally to box out defenders to secure tough catches in traffic. Coleman looked like an absolute stud while he was out there, and was absolutely the talk of camp.
Coleman got a little banged up going into the Saints team scrimmage on Friday and has been limited since. I am currently going to assume that he will play in the game, and provided he does, I want to see him go out and make the same kind of plays in live action that he was making in camp. I recently wrote a piece proclaiming him as the next potential star for the Saints offense, and I stand by that. However, people like me who have chosen to buy into the hype on Coleman would really appreciate it if he would go out there and give us some confidence in our prediction.
Coleman was the subject of a lot of hype coming onto the team as a undrafted rookie free agent last year, and it will be good to see if his ‘red shirt’ year has benefited him as much as we have heard. The need for a player to step up in the passing game is another reason why I will be keeping an eye on him. The value of someone of his size in the red zone will help replace some of the lost value in the Jimmy Graham trade, and if he can also become a reliable receiver in the passing game, it will give the Saints a big bodied receiver in the mold of Marques Colston to go on into the future.
No. 2: Bobby Richardson, Defensive Lineman
Going into the offseason, I would have told you that the biggest areas of need for the Saints defense were the corner position and the linebacking unit. The Saints addressed both units in the offseason, but the unit that is now the single biggest question mark on the team in my book is the defensive line. In particular, it’s the interior of the line. Normally I would be talking about the veterans, or wanting to see a high-priced player like Cameron Jordan dominate. But in this case, my eyes will be glued to the UDFA out of Indiana has a chance to show the whole world that he is much more than just a nice camp story.
So far in New Orleans Saints training camp, Richardson been the single biggest surprise for the team. Not a day has gone by where I haven’t seen reports of him making at least one notable play. Whether it’s batting down passes, getting sacks, or making plays in the backfield, Richardson’s relentless motor has been evident. He may be a bit undersized for a traditional lineman at his position, however he possesses long arms, enough room to fill out his frame more, and unusual quickness for a man his size.
From a personal standpoint, I am really rooting for the guy because I love getting to see an undrafted player like him make it. It really is way too soon to draw any kind of conclusion about Richardson’s chances to make the team, and definitely any chance he cracks the rotation, in the first game of preseason. With that being said though, it’s an excellent opportunity for Richardson to make a statement and make it extremely difficult for the Saints to cut him. The fact is that the team has little to no quality depth on the interior defensive line and so he is more than just a good story…he could be a good fit.
No. 1: Tyeler Davison, Defensive Lineman
Tyeler Davison is my sleeper pick for Saints break out player of the offseason. From relatively unheralded 5th round pick to a rotational piece on the defensive line right away. Davison was a dominant monster in college and has consistently worked his way up the depth chart throughout camp. I don’t think there is anyone out there who loves him more or has covered him better than Big Easy Believer’s Barry Hirstius has.
I think Barry is absolutely right when it comes to Davison, and that he is going to come out and flat-out dominate against Baltimore. Of the players I have listed here, I have the highest expectations for Anthony, but also the most certainty that he will live up to my expectations. However, if there is one player I REALLY would like to see live up to their potential, it’s Tyeler Davison. He isn’t the biggest defensive lineman I have ever seen, but Davison possesses monstrous strength and one of the highest motors I have ever seen for a player his size. Davison plays the game with a passion and a reckless abandon that is second to none, and on the interior of the line that brings some pretty great value.
The need for the Saints to find some kind of depth along the defensive line is significant at this point. I believe that both Jenkins and Hicks will be able to give consistent solid reps, even if they aren’t spectacular. But I would be about a million times less stressed if Davison can step up and give them a quality rotational player along the defensive front going into the season.
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