Saints Training Camp: 5 Issues to Watch
The New Orleans Saints and the other 31 NFL teams have finally started their training camps after one of the most trying offseasons in league history because of the nationwide COVID-19 concerns. The league continues to wrestle with sensitive issues such as a possible roster increase, potential attendance restrictions in stadiums, and other safety concerns for players and fans. Besides those important issues, each team must also contend with the usual on-field questions while preparing for their season-opener. Now they must do so without the aid of offseason workouts and preseason games. Here are a few of the most important questions facing the Saints as they prepare for their 2020 season opener.
5. THE BATTLE AT WIDE RECEIVER
The offseason signing of veteran WR Emmanuel Sanders guarantees that Michael Thomas will have a bonafide complimentary threat at the position for the first time since his rookie year of 2016. While Thomas and Sanders form one of the better starting WR pairs in the NFL, the Saints still have several other questions at the position.
- Will Tre'Quan Smith finally play up to his potential?
- Will any of the team's 1st or 2nd year undrafted receivers develop?
- Can the WR position (outside of Thomas) consistently threaten defenses?
- Will Deonte Harris see more offensive snaps?
- Will free agent acquisition Ty Montgomery win the #3 WR job?
Third-year WR Smith has slid down the depth chart with the acquisition of Sanders and may see a further decrease in his snaps if his inconsistencies continue and New Orleans uses 2nd year All-Pro KR Deonte Harris more in the offense. Although his roster spot is likely safe, Smith's job could even be in jeopardy with rapid development from 2nd year UDFA receivers Lil' Jordan Humphrey and Emmanuel Butler or this year's UDFA additions Juwan Johnson and Marquez Callaway.
4. ROOKIE DEVELOPMENT
New Orleans added four draft picks and several talented undrafted rookies. The odds of a late-round draft pick or undrafted player making an NFL roster are statistically low, especially on a team as deep in talent as New Orleans. The struggle is even greater for this year's class because of the cancellation of preseason games and offseason activities, limiting these players' opportunity to make an early impression on their coaches.
First-round pick Cesar Ruiz is expected to slide into a starting role on the offensive line. Third-round selections LB Zack Baun and TE Adam Trautman are expected to be contributors on each side of the ball. These players must get up to speed for the team to fire on all cylinders to start the season.
3. LINEBACKERS RETURNING FROM INJURY
All-Pro LB Demario Davis is one of the league's best defenders at any position. Still, the defense needs fellow linebackers Alex Anzalone and Kiko Alonso to stay on the field. Both Anzalone and Alonso are athletic defenders who excel against the run and coverage, but each is coming off season-ending injuries and having lengthy injury histories. The Saints made a huge addition to the unit when they signed free agent LB Nigel Bradham on Thursday, but Anzalone and Alonso's health could elevate this group to an elite level.
2. ALVIN KAMARA
Kamara endured some criticism in 2019 because of decreased explosive plays, mostly because of knee and ankle injuries. Now entering the last year of his rookie deal, Kamara has stated that he wants to be paid among the league's top running backs. He now appears to be in tremendous shape and will again be a vital part of the Saints' offensive attack. Kamara's production should again be outstanding, but his contract negotiations with the franchise will continue to be a major story surrounding the team.
1. THE BATTLE AT CORNERBACK
Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins are as good as any CB tandem in the NFL and capable of shutting down the league's top wideouts. The lack of depth at this position, however, continues to be the team's major weakness. Second-year S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson will be the defense's top coverage option in the slot, which he was terrific in as a rookie. Veteran P.J. Williams returns to provide stability, and reserve CB Justin Hardee is a special teams ace.
P.J. Williams is a versatile member of the secondary who excels off the ball but can be a liability in man coverage but overpaid veteran CB Patrick Robinson is a major liability when on the field. The Saints added XFL interception leader Deatrick Nichols and undrafted rookies Keith Washington and Tino Ellis this offseason adds competition at CB. Robinson's experience gives him an early edge over Nichols, Washington, and Ellis, but someone must emerge to eliminate the team's biggest vulnerability area.