Every year from the middle of June until the end of July, we enter into the dreaded dead period–the twilight zone were there is absolutely nothing going on in the NFL; and if a player on your team is in the news, it’s usually not good.
The last time I wrote anything about the Saints was the last day of mini camp because to be frank there was nothing worthwhile for me to write about.
But have no fear that is in the rear view mirror now, football is back! In just two weeks the Saints will be playing the Patriots in the 1st pre-season game and we will have Saints football until at least January 1st and hopefully beyond.
It’s That Time of the Year Again Football Is Back
As we head into training camp and the season, the main two things that worry me are 1) injuries and 2) team depth. These two things go hand in hand and is a major factor in how the season will shake out. A good example is last year with key injuries to Keenan Lewis, Dannell Ellerbe, Rafael Bush and Damian Swann. With a defense that was void with layers of depth and was shaky at best, this was the knockout blow that came quick; and it was severe.
All teams have to deal with injuries in the the NF–it’s the nature of the beast. When you have world class athletes that are the best of the best going full speed, cutting, stopping on a dime, fighting for leverage and hitting each other like a freight train – soft tissue tears, bones break, muscles are pulled and concussions are going to happen.
This year being no different than in the past, the Saints have already taken a serious blow to the roster losing Hau’oli Kikaha to an ACL tear during O.T.A.’s in early June. My gut feeling was that Kikaha was going to be a situational pass rusher mainly in the Jack position and at times as a DE. Kasim Edebali is probably the front runner going into camp to assume the role that Kikaha would have taken.
The other two players to see their playing time bumped up because of the injury are Davis Tull and Obum Gwacham. (I see Bobby Richardson as the base DE opposite Cam Jordan). Both these players are unproven especially Tull. Gwacham has seen action in nine games last year and showed flashes registering two and a half sacks.
Gwacham intrigues me the most out of the three because I think he has a higher ceiling than the other two. Gwacham is raw–playing three years as a wide receiver at Oregon State before moving to the defensive side of the ball as a DE for his senior season. Once he learns and refines his technique to bring it up to par with his outstanding athleticism, then you may see him become a more rounded and consistent player–you are going to have to be patient with him though. However, patience might be in short supply as the depth at this position is average at best. My hope is that Davis Tull can stay healthy and gain a foot in the rotation–and that’s what I think it will be–a rotation of Edebali, Tull and Gwacham.
Another position of concern for me on defense is depth at cornerback. I’m not riding the doom horse regarding this defense as some are but if injuries strike the defensive back corps, all bets are off. We saw it last year when Keenan Lewis, PJ Williams and Damian Swann all went down–it was excruciatingly hard to watch. Other than Delvin Breaux’s stellar play, the unit led by flag magnet Brandon Browner was an opposing quarterback’s dream.
But if (and this a big if), the secondary can stay healthy then they can turn what once was a weak unit into a strength of this team. With Keenan Lewis and Delvin Breaux holding down the outside and Damian Swann along with Pj Williams coming in on sub packages, I like this group of players more than anytime in the last four years. Now throw in safeties Kenny Vaccaro, Eric Harris, Jairus Byrd, Vonn Bell and Roman Harper and you have the makings of very solid foundation in turning this thing around.
On offense you have the same issues as the defense with depth issues (mainly the offensive line) but Drew Brees hides a lot of the deficiencies that are surrounding him–he’s done it for years.
I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling a little nervous with the guard situation and an aging Zach Strief protecting Brees.
The Saints must have a decent running game this year to take the pressure off the defense by eating up clock. On the flip side, the defense needs to hold their own so the offense doesn’t have to abandon the run playing catch up–it works hand in hand.
If CJ Spiller is completely healthy, he will give this offense that X-factor that they have been missing in recent years. I know Sean Payton has some mad genius plays drawn up just for him but unfortunately he hasn’t been 100% during his time in New Orleans. Again health on both sides of the ball will be key this year.
Of course the bell cow in the backfield will be Mark Ingram. I would love for Ingram to get 20-25 touches a game but I don’t see it–not in this offense. The Saints are a passing team and that is not going to change as long as Payton is head coach. It’s entertaining for fans to watch but wouldn’t it be nice every once in a while that they pound a team into submission?
This is my favorite time of the year with training camp kicking off tomorrow. It’s like the night before a fishing trip, you hope you will load up on fish and dream of catching your limit but you really don’t know.
Once we get a few games into the season we will know fairly easy if this year is just another step in the rebuilding process or if those games in December will have true meaning–I’m leaning towards the latter and to that I say, as always, …WHO DAT!