Training Camp Tour: Saints as physical as it gets in camp
On Day 11 of the Pro Football Focus training camp tour, the PFF analysis team traveled to New Orleans Saints camp at the Greenbrier.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Up until Saturday, one of the defining characteristics of this training camp tour was how unique the Pittsburgh Steelers camp was because of the intensity of hitting and tackling all the way to the ground. Every other camp we had been at stopped short of that, even in live hitting drills, opting for thud contact or wrap then release to try and keep guys on their feet. At Greenbrier, though, for Saints camp, all that changed.
The Saints practice was every bit as physical as Pittsburgh’s, and watching both lines move blocking sleds around with intensity and violence, this may have been the most explosive and violent camp we have visited so far.
— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) August 6, 2016
The D-line moving bodies
We were up close and personal with the D-line as they went through their drills as a unit and they were attacking the blocking sleds and each other with more fervor than any other group we have seen on this tour. They weren’t simply going through the motions, but going at each drill with 100 percent effort, and it all started with Cameron Jordan, who not only sets the tone for this group as their best player, but also leads from the front by taking the first rep at every drill and shows the group quite directly what is expected of them.
This was pretty fun. The extended sled in action pic.twitter.com/02HKr0bfDo
— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) August 6, 2016
The entire group seemed very vocal, encouraging each other and celebrating big shots and good reps. Jordan told us that they had done several offseason things together as a group, gone boat fishing and that kind of thing. “We’ve killed things together. To make a killer instinct you’ve got to kill things together.” He told us after practice. “We took them boat fishing and then we had a fish fry, to introduce them to the red fish situation.”
Jordan definitely set the tone for the group, but Sheldon Rankins, David Onyemata, Nick Fairley and Darryl Tapp all made some big plays or displayed some good things in this session too. The D-line group has been hit and miss for the Saints, but this group looks like it has some playmakers on it, and they work well as a unit judging from the drills practicing stunts and twists, as well as the team-portion of the day. Jordan was PFF’s second-rated 4-3 DE last season and Nick Fairley had impressive grades against both the run and pass last season in St Louis despite posting just a single sack.
Drew Brees with a practice to forget
Brees was picked off four times and described the practice session as “one of the rougher training camp practices I’ve had… maybe ever.” He was picked off four times, and though not all of them were necessarily horrendous decisions, they came against a defense that had none of the starting secondary suited up to play.
One of the picks was a batted ball by Jordan at the line that was snagged and returned for six by James Laurinaitis, and another was a miscommunication on a route, but the final one on the last play of the day was a terrible decision forced into coverage that Brees referred to as a “critical mistake that shouldn’t happen.”
This is Drew Brees though, and one bad practice is not going to make a major impact on his season, but the fact that the offense was coming up with so many mistakes against what was effectively a second-string secondary suggests they are far from ready to open the season right now.
One bright spot on offense
Willie Snead was the one real bright spot on offense, or certainly in the passing game. He was consistently getting open and made some nice catches including going to the ground to snag a low pass in team drills. Snead was the only member of the offense to give the defense consistent trouble and Brees was quick to talk him up after practice, saying the thing that he really loves best about him is his grit, toughness and willingness to do anything that’s asked of him without question.
Snead played 797 snaps last season – only Brandin Cooks played more among the wideouts – and actually had the highest grade among the wide receiver group. He looked like he was ready to take another step forward and become more of a factor in this offense, potentially delivering more than the three touchdowns he managed in 2015 and topping 1,000 yards for the first time in his NFL career.
Other camp notes
– With the entire starting secondary sitting out, there were a lot more reps to go around among the other defensive backs. P.J. Williams was running with the first-team defense and rookies Ken Crawley and De’Vante Harris both saw significant time. Harris was among the best-graded corners in college last season at PFF, allowing just 275 receiving yards and one touchdown in his final season at Texas A&M. PFF had him rated as a mid-round pick, but he went undrafted because, in his words, “I’m a little guy, man. You know, I’m 5-foot-10, 180, but I just want to ball out and help the team.” Days like Saturday will help him get the opportunity to do so.
– There was a minor scuffle during team drills that got both sides fired up. It was quickly defused, but it was the first altercation that threatened to boil over that PFF has witnessed firsthand, and some of the players were steamed about it as they moved onto the next drill.
– The O-line did fine overall, and Zach Strief was able to stone Jordan one on one in one of the drills, but Senio Kelemete was a player that stood out during the line work. He won most of his one on reps, even when they were practicing picking up stunts and twists, usually something linemen struggle with, especially this early.