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Aug

21

PRACTICE? WE TALKING ABOUT PRACTICE?

SAINTS LOOK TO GAUGE PROGRESS LEADING UP TO REGULAR SEASON DRESS REHEARSAL

by Gus Kattengell / @gkatt_17

The New Orleans Saints are out in sunny California for the next couple of days as they will practice against and then play the L.A. Chargers in a nationally televised preseason game Saturday night.

Wednesday and Thursday the teams will practice at the Chargers training camp facility in Costa, Mesa, CA. Saints head coach Sean Payton and Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn were on the same staff in Dallas under Bill Parcells in 2005 and that familiarity perhaps led to a good experience last year when both teams held joint practices before a preseason game. Lynn this week called last year’s workouts “nice, clean, good hard work” and perhaps more importantly “no fighting”. Keeping tempers in check is something Payton feels is key. “I think it’s important. Both teams have the same interest, you know? In other words, we’re trying to improve, we’re also trying to make the right decisions relative to our rosters and be healthy coming away from the practices and the games,” says Payton on the importance of getting good clean work in. “It’s just being smart and understanding what the common goal is. I think we can compete, play hard and I felt like a year ago that happened. Anthony [Lynn] and I of course worked together before (in Dallas) and so we’re looking forward to it.”

As for what coach Payton is looking for in the workouts? “Well look when you get a chance to practice with another team you get different formations offensively, different type of schemes defensively, different system and our experience last year with them was really good. It was competitive, and those guys do a good job, our guys practiced hard on both teams. I think it’s a good workweek.”

Many national NFL analysts are predicting the Chargers to be a playoff team in the AFC. “Without studying the roster yet, I know Anthony and those guys have high expectations in their division, rightfully so,” Payton says of the Chargers talent. “They’ve got a quarterback that’s been successful throughout the course of his career. Their defense played extremely well last year and offensively, I think they were the top passing team in the league. So yes, I think there are two similar teams with the same aspirations and we have a chance to work with each other for a few days and then play again.”

The practices begin noon central time so that’s when we can expect coverage to begin. Over the next few days here are a list of players and or battles that I think Saints fans should want to see positive stories on, tweets about or mentioned in post practice packages in local sportscasts.

OFFENSE

QB DREW BREES: Brees has had his work cut out for him this training camp against a stingy and opportunistic defense. Safety Marcus Williams is one a few secondary members that at times have made Brees snap off his chin strap angrily, clap his hands in disgust or utter very un-Brees-like language. Brees is working with a fairly young and inexperienced group and when you add three new potential pass catchers in Cam Meredith, Tre’Quan Smith and Ben Watson to the offense it’s going to take time on task to get a rhythm going. Brees hasn’t played in the first two preseason games and following last week’s performance under center it sure feels like it’s important for the Saints offense to have a solid scoring drive doesn’t it? Brees during a joint practice with the Patriots said at the time that at this point in his career he gets more out of joint workouts then in a game. I look for super competitive Brees this week as he tunes it up for the regular season. After Saturday night it’ll be September 9 before we seem him on a field in game action against.

WR MICHAEL THOMAS: Thomas is a beast and has been ridiculous at camp. He may at times during the joint practices line up against All-Pro cornerback Casey Hayward. Thomas is also a L.A. native so there that added element.

WR CAMERON MEREDITH: It had to be a special moment last week for Meredith who played in his first game since suffering a season ending knee injury last preseason. He was happy he said afterwards to get hit and get that out of the way. Meredith was only targeted once and it was on the opening drive when Hill fired a hot pass that went through his hands. The pass could have had some touch but no doubt receivers coach Curtis Johnson wasn’t hearing that as it’s a pass that needs to be caught. I’m giving Meredith a benefit of the doubt despite a few Colby Fleener comparisons already I’m seeing being made on social media. Meredith is still getting back to 100% health wise and players deal with the mental return to health differently. You’ve seen what he can bring at times. To me it’s about showing it consistently. I think this is a big week for him to show up in these practices and have at least 1-3 catches on Saturday night.

RB BOSTON SCOTT: Scott in Jacksonville had one carry and almost a touchdown as he was stopped just shy of the goal line. The week leading into the Cardinals game the back politely shared with local media he’d enjoy a few more carries if coach Payton saw fit to provide and when they came last Friday he didn’t disappoint. Scott had 6 carries for 28 yards and once again did well in the return game with 3 returns for 87 yards. “He had two plays that stood out. I think that is the strength of his game right now and he is still working in the return area of it and he is still working within the framework of protection,” Payton said evaluating Scott’s game. “That’s something that he needs work on but he’s pretty good. He’s done a good job when we’ve handed him the ball and that’s kind of what we saw in college. I think he has good balance. I think he has good vision and good short area quickness. He can get to the edge pretty fast.” Let’s see if Scott is awarded more carries this Saturday. He could help his case by having solid practices on Wednesday and Thursday.

WR TRE’QUAN SMITH: The rookie receiver just looks like the team’s second best receiver doesn’t he? Is that a good or bad thing? Good in that if that’s the case then you once again got a steal in the third round but bad perhaps in that he’s better then a pair of veterans in Meredith and Ginn? I’m not ready to feel that way simply because I think it speaks more to the abilities Smith has rather then him being better to inferior talent. Smith is strong, fast and seems to be able to run every route in the route tree. That’s why I feel he’s the second best receiver. “He’s progressing well. I’m encouraged. He’s receiving a lot of work at the ‘Z’. You see strong hands. You see him blocking. I think he’s progressing well.”

The fact that Smith has seemed to earn the trust of Brees could make one remember Michael Thomas’s rookie season where it felt like at this point you could see the potential. “They’re different type receivers and yet I would say we are seeing the guy pick things up pretty quickly,” Payton says when comparing Thomas and Smith at this point in their rookie training camps. “So there are some similarities. I do feel like he’s having a good camp. We felt the same about Mike a couple years ago. The key is to keep giving him the reps at what we think he’s going to be doing in the game and reduce some of the variables. But he’s bright and he’s a big target. He can run. So he’s doing well.” Let’s see how he does this week. I don’t know about you but I’m looking forward to seeing his growth.

SAINTS OFFENSIVE LINE VS CHARGERS DEFENSIVE LINE: The Saints trotted out their full healthy offensive line for the first time this season last Friday in the Cardinals game. The opening drives while ending in turnovers saw running backs Mark Ingram and Jonathan Williams gash the Cardinals on the ground. We’ve yet to see a good test in pass protection up to this point and that should change this week. “It’s a good pass-rush team, both of those guys, [Joey] Bosa and [Mark] Ingram played last night,” Payton said back on Sunday following practice about facing the Chargers pass rush. “We saw some of that game on TV, but those guys played really good football especially as the season went on last year. I think it’ll be good work for us.” How will the Saints beef fair against a solid Chargers defensive front and hold off key pass rushers when trying to throw the ball?

DEFENSE

MARCUS DAVENPORT: The rookie first round pick has been hampered by groin injury and has missed the first two-preseason games. With last week’s injury to Alex Okafor, it’s key for Davenport to start getting back on the field. “It’s just about the assignment. He’ll know he’s been at practice and in the meetings,” Payton said of Davenport’s road back to playing football. “It is just making sure he’s 100 percent. But I anticipate that happening this week. I anticipate him being able to work this week and receive some playing time.” Davenport has talent as at times this camp you’ve seen it, but it’s been brief. Terron Armstead has been providing daily humbling lessons and you can only learn so much in a classroom. Davenport needs snaps. This could be a big week for him if he is able to get back on the field and show up in the workouts and game.

CB MARSHON LATTIMORE: Lattimore had two interceptions in the last full practice the team had and may have had another depending on video replay. Lattimore loves competition and last week spoke about the opportunity to face Pro-Bowl receiver Keenan Allen this week. This battle should be a fun one to watch.

S MARCUS WILLIAMS: Williams has been the star of training camp for media in the local media covering camp daily. Williams has picked off Brees several times and seems to be at the right place at the right time. Can he make plays this week against Phillips Rivers?

DT SHELDON RANKINS: Rankins said earlier in training camp that he left some plays on the field last season. This camp he’s shared first unit snap with David Onyemata as his progression has been solid. Rankins isn’t concerned about the rotation as he sees it as something that can keep the unit fresh. Still he told reporters he vowed to be better this season. Let’s see if he stands out this week.

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