The New Orleans Saints have the day off today after having gone through 5 straight days worth of practices, with 3 of them in full pads underneath the searing hot South Louisiana sun and a brief portion of one spent soaking up all of the moisture from a welcome (and cooling) summertime thunderstorm.
With the possibilities of heat stroke and $3 bottled water products aside, here are my personal choices for the 5 most impressive and 5 least impressive players in 2018 Training Camp that I've seen in action thus far.
Keep in mind: other members of the media covering the Saints might have a much different perspective as to who their own "most and least" impressive players have been so far, but this is from MY point of view.
Starting with the 5 LEAST impressive......
#5. WILL LUTZ, KICKER
Lutz doesn't have any competition in Camp this year, and truth be told: maybe he needs some. Lutz seems to THRIVE under pressure, and it may be the reason why he hasn't exactly been dead-solid perfect (as my Paw Paw used to say) in practice, with 2 more misses wide right yesterday before the rain arrived.
Is Lutz in any danger of LOSING his job? That's unlikely. But for his sake as well as the team and its passionate fans, let's all hope that he gets the "kinks" worked out and regains his consistency here in the upcoming Pre-Season games. Otherwise, it could end up costing them big-time (like a missed "chip shot" field goal in a Playoff game).
#4. MICHAEL HOOMANAWANUI, TIGHT END
Hoomanawanui as most fans know, is currently on the club's physically unable to perform list; and even though Sean Payton hasn't specified exactly why Hoomanawanui was placed on the PUP list or when he is expected to be activated, it's to Hooman's detriment not to be out there.
With Ben Watson entrenched as the starter at tight end and young veteran Josh Hill the likely #2 TE to begin the season, Hooman is hoping to stay on the team as the #3 TE. But in his absence, UDFA TE's Deon Yelder and Dan Arnold are both making a strong push for that spot as well — meaning that Hoomanawanui needs to get back out there, and quick.
#3. BRANDON COLEMAN, WIDE RECEIVER
I actually could have lumped Hoomanawanui in with 4th year WR Brandon Coleman, who's also currently on the PUP list as well and who in his time up to this point with the Saints franchise, has become one of the more polarizing players of the Sean Payton-Drew Brees Era.
Saints fans either LOVE Coleman for his tenacity and never-say-quit attitude, or dislike him because they feel he's the least productive player in the Saints offense, and the added caveat (fair or not) that he had 2 inconsequential fumbles in a win over the Jets last season that's led some to believe (falsely) that Coleman has an issue with ball security.
But Coleman for now remains on the sidelines (where I observed him yesterday "playing catch" with himself to pass the time, as his teammates were scrimmaging nearby); and if the Saints decide to take an "out of sight, out of mind" approach, Coleman is in SERIOUSjeopardy of not making the Final 53-man Roster with players like TommyLee Lewis, Keith Kirkwood and Austin Carr making very strong cases for themselves to be the team's #5 WR.
#2. TOM SAVAGE, BACK-UP QUARTERBACK
I don't want to spend a whole lot of time on Savage, whom the Saints signed in Free Agency this past off-season to be the #2 QB behind starter Drew Brees after he came over from the Houston Texans. The "biggest knock" on Savage has been inconsistency, and that's been very evident thus far through the first 5 practices.
There are times when he's looked as every bit as comfortable as any experienced veteran NFL quarterback should look like, with the ability to make a nice throw here and there. But as his HORRIBLY-THROWN interception in yesterday's practice clearly illustrated, there are times when it seems like he's a "deer caught in the headlights". That doesn't bode well for the 2018 regular season, if (God forbid) anything were to happen with Brees.
#1. MARCUS DAVENPORT, DEFENSIVE END
First before Saints fans begin to panic, let me stress: Davenport is STILL A ROOKIE; and in no way, shape, or form am I suggesting that he'll turn out to be a "bust". You shouldn't read all that much into Davenport not winning a majority of his snaps in 1-on-1's (mostly against starting LT Terron Armstead, who's one of the League's best offensive tackles when healthy). The young man seems to have his head swimming in a sea of information at the moment, as he tries to acclimate himself to the professional game.
That said, for those Saints fans who were expecting double-digit sacks along with him making an "immediate impact" on the Saints defense in his very 1st NFL season, could be in for huge disappointment.
Prepare yourselves, Saints fans: the National Media covering the League will pounce on the story should Davenport not fully live up to the hype, that he entered the NFL with. If he's unable to get it down quick enough, the critics will be all over the Saints organization; for giving up what they gave to the Green Bay Packers (their top pick in NEXT year's 2019 NFL Draft) to get him.
There will be talk that he's a "bust" — when the actual truth is that he simply just needs more time to fully develop.
And that bring us to......
THE 5 MOST IMPRESSIVE SAINTS IN 2018 SAINTS TRAINING CAMP SO FAR
#5. KURT COLEMAN, SAFETY
One thing that's definitely caught my eye (somewhat unexpectedly) is the range, versatility, and the play-making ability of veteran safety Kurt Coleman, who the team signed in Free Agency from the Carolina Panthers this past off-season. Nearly every deep ball that's been thrown by the 4 Saints QB's in Camp, has in some manner been contested by Coleman, who seems to have a knack for being "at the right place, at the right time".
Coleman essentially was signed to become the "replacement" for former Saints starting safety Kenny Vaccaro (whom the organization chose not to re-sign), and through the first 5 practices I'd be more than willing to say that the Saints — with no disrespect intended towards Vaccaro — made the right choice.
#4. PATRICK ROBINSON, SLOT CORNERBACK
In the first 5 practices thus far, the one other player in the Saints defensive secondary that's impressed me the most has been "P-Rob" a.k.a. Patrick Robinson, who yesterday seemingly was in on nearly every pass break-up that the secondary made; drawing excited praise from Secondary / CB coach Aaron Glenn on more than one occasion, in the process.
For those Saints fans that were worried that Robinson might regress this season similarly to the manner in which he performed in his first go-round with the Saints (2010-2014), you can breathe easy. And that's simply because Robinson DEFINITELY is not the same player you remember from a few years ago. He's evolved into one of the premier slot / cover CB's in the League, and yesterday's brilliant performance in the pouring rain only confirmed it.
#3. TRE'QUAN SMITH, WIDE RECEIVER
Smith is easily the "break-out" player in Camp this year; and it goes without saying that for the 2nd straight year, the Saints may have gotten another 3rd Round "steal" on the offensive side of the football, just as they did last year with 2017 NFL Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara.
One of the reasons that he wasn't drafted higher than where the Saints were able to grab him with the 91st overall pick in Round 3, is because Smith is still actually learning HOW to play the WR position, and scouts feel that he still has some growing to do in other areas such as hand-eye coordination and route-running.
The other knock on him (somewhat amazingly) is that scouts felt that he lacked top-end speed; and at the NFL Combine earlier this year, Smith only ran a 4.49 40; which isn't necessarily the type of speed that you'd typically want in a deep threat / downfield target wide receiver. But obviously when he's on the field, Smith has a "2nd gear" that allowed him to consistently blow past some of college football's better defenders during his time with the Golden Knights.
One thing that works to Tre'Quan's advantage is that he "lulls" the defensive back to sleep, so to speak; and then very quickly accelerates into an entirely different level of (deceptive) speed which allows him to get just enough separation to make the play. That much has become obvious, and it will be interesting to see how he fares against live competition from some of the League's better DB's, beginning next Thursday Night in the first Pre-Season game at Jacksonville vs. the Jaguars.
#2. DEMARIO DAVIS, MIDDLE LINEBACKER
Speed. In the NFL, teams that are usually quicker and faster than others, are more often times than not the ones that are the most successful. That's likely the main reason why the Saints made Davis their "splash move" of 2018 NFL Free Agency when they lured him back near to his home (Brandon, Mississippi) after he spent the past few seasons with the New York Jets.
As with Kurt Coleman, Davis too seems to have a "nose" for the football, but it's his ability to quickly accelerate and close in on the ball-carrier, that you IMMEDIATELY notice. That's how fast he is.
And as yesterday's interception that he made against Drew Brees on the final play of practice illustrated: he's outstanding in pass coverage, as well.
#1. MICHAEL THOMAS, WIDE RECEIVER
There certainly are other players I could have put in this spot, such as Brees, Kamara, or All-Pro defensive end Cam Jordan, who quietly is having another solid Camp thus far.
But.......no one individual player has impressed me more than Thomas.
For the past 2 and a half years, I've been racking my brain to come up with which NFL player from the past that he reminds me of personally, and the best one that I can come up with is soon-to-be NFL Hall of Famer Terrell Owens. (but without T.O.'s at-times controversial personality).
Like Thomas, Owens wasn't necessarily the best or the most fastest players at the WR position when he played, but during the peak of his career with the San Francisco 49ers in the late 1990's, his production was constant and consistent — especially at making "big plays" when it mattered the most.