Focusing on us
NEW ORLEANS -- With the upcoming second pre-season game against the Arizona Cardinals Friday night, head coach Sean Payton is adamant about focusing on his team first and foremost.
After Monday afternoon’s practice, Payton reiterated his main goal leading up to the next game.
“We’re Saints on Saints today,” stated Payton. “In other words, Arizona will start when they get back (on Wednesday from the day off Tuesday) but you’re still in a training camp mode. Yes, you’ll have film now to look at when the time comes to prepare these guys for the next game, but there’s still a lot of fundamental things that we have to do better.”
New Orleans will be doing a ton more evaluation in the days to come as they must have their final 53 man roster set by September 1. But, so far there are a number of good things happening in camp.
One offensive player that has made quite an impression on the coaching staff is former Arkansas Razorback Jonathan Williams. The third year pro made a splash last Thursday, rushing four times for 26 yards and a 4-yard touchdown against Jacksonville.
When the Saints returned to practice on Saturday, Williams was getting first-team work, and the Saints plan to take a good look as they search for a player who can fill in for Ingram during the suspension.
“He’s a guy with good vision; he’ll get what’s blocked,” Payton said. “We just have to keep giving him those opportunities.”
The former Buffalo Bill and Denver Bronco not only has impressed in his running ability, but he also has opened eyes with his pass blocking skills.
“Once the pads come on, he is an impressive guy,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “He has run the ball extremely well, but I think more so than that he has stuck his nose in there in pass protection better than anybody I have seen in a while.”
Williams continues to battle for a spot against several other running backs including veterans Shane Vereen, Terrence West and Trey Edmunds and Louisiana Tech rookie, Boston Scott.
Of course, Williams also has to be able to make plays in the running game, and he’s shown both good vision and a willingness to break tackles, a must for a player fighting for a role that operates mostly between the tackles in the New Orleans offense while Kamara hits teams on the perimeter.
“If you go back and watch me play in years past, that’s what I’m best at, breaking tackles and keeping my feet moving after contact,” Williams said.
On the defensive side of the ball, Florida Atlantic product Trey Hendrickson has shown that he is ready for a chance for playing time right now. The second year player recorded two sacks during Monday’s practice and had a solid performance against the Jaguars.
The big issue for him is staying healthy. It felt like he never quite got going last year because he was sidelined so often. If he can stay on the field and replicate what he is doing in camp when it counts, he could make an impact this season.
Also making his name known on at defensive back is Arthur Maulet. In his second season with the Saints, Maulet appears to remain in the mix for a roster spot. He’s improved considerably from where he was at this time last season, but so has the depth at cornerback. He’s done a good job of making an impression, but he can’t afford to let up over the next few weeks.
Three veterans that are making their way back to the field slowly but surely are guard Andrus Peat, defensive end Alex Okafor and wide receiver Cameron Meredith. All three were hurt last season and all three have been held out of several practices or limited in others. However, they are making great progress.
Asked about Peat specifically on Sunday, Payton took the opportunity to praise all three. Peat underwent surgery after breaking his fibula in the playoff win over Carolina, Okafor tore his Achilles tendon and Meredith is coming off of a torn ACL suffered last preseason with Chicago.
“He (Peat) had team drills yesterday and two or three snaps today,” Payton said. “There’s a phrase, we kind of ramp them up, so each day we gradually increase a load, then we’ll back off a day. It’s good to have him back out here taking reps with the first group. When you look at a few of our guys with injuries, like Alex, Andrus, and Cam, those guys are coming along well.”
After Friday night, New Orleans will finish out the pre-season on the road at the Los Angeles Chargers and then return home to play the Los Angeles Rams. The Saints open the regular season with Tampa Bay.