While the New Orleans Saints are only a total of 3 practices into their 2018 Training Camp thus far, a few things have quickly become evident. The first thing is that this is a team POISED AND READY for another strong run in the NFL Playoffs, and getting all the way to the Super Bowl is a very distinct possibility.
One other thing that's quickly become evident: 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. And that player is former University of Central Florida WR Tre'Quan Smith.
For the 2nd time in as many days, the 6-foot-1, 210 pound Delray Beach, Florida native had a "highlight reel" performance, making several contested catches on deep balls thrown over the middle, and even making the incomplete passes a reason for excitement just because of how quickly he's able to gain separation.
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 was obvious once again, today.
If you've been watching (and now covering) the sport of Pro Football as long as I have, then you know that some players just have that "something extra" that allows them to be successful at the highest level of the sport, in spite of whatever their other alleged shortcomings may or may not be.
And Tre'Quan DEFINITELY has it.
(Click HERE to see Saints News Network's exclusive profile of Tre'Quan Smith from last week).
When you throw in the additional caveat that he potentially is already one of the best blocking WR's on the entire team as a rookie (Smith is considered to be an elite-caliber blocker in the running game and in the open field), it means that Sean Payton for the 2nd straight year may have landed himself another young and virile "weapon" for Drew Brees and the Saints offense.
Sure, it's still early yet and the Saints haven't even played their first Pre-Season game.
But just know this, Saints fans: #10 is the "real deal" — and he will be one of the players that you'll want to keep a close eye on, moving forward.
WIDE RECEIVERS SHINE, PART 2:
As it turns out, Smith was just one of among a handful of Saints WR's that had impressive performances at today's practice. 3rd year WR TommyLee Lewis had an equally distinctive performance, and the diminutive veteran is making a STRONG case to claim the 5th and final WR spot (assuming Tre'Quan will become the #4 WR, which seems all but likely at this point).
With other players such as Austin Carr and Travin Dural making their own case for a spot on the Final 53-man Roster, Lewis seems to have distanced himself from the pack, even if it's just a little bit.
That should make for an interesting and multi-faceted position battle in the upcoming Pre-Season games, between them all.
And not to be excluded: veteran 4th year WR Cam Meredith, who continues to show no "ill effects" from the torn ACL that he suffered last Pre-Season when he was with the Chicago Bears; and who's looked good catching the football and appears to be right on schedule to open the 2018 season as the team's slot / #3 WR.
DON'T FALL IN LOVE WITH A "STRIPPER".......
Outside of the stand-out WR play today, the rest of Practice was somewhat uneventful; with the team focusing on running the ball between the tackles and punt return drills on special teams, with a handful of different players trying their hand at fielding punts from Thomas Morstead (one was rookie RB Boston Scott, who in a cringe-worthy moment, "muffed" one of his opportunities).
But if there was any other one specific thing that stood out, it's that the Saints defense — as an ENTIRE unit but particularly with the linebackers and defensive backs — is now constantly trying to create turnovers by "stripping" the ball away from whoever has the ball in their hands.
Even when the referee's whistle would have blown the play "dead" in real time, the Saints defenders are always trying to slap at the ball and make a play; something that while it might seem inconsequential now, could pay off BIG TIME (like the NFL Playoffs), down the line.
PLAY OF THE DAY:
On the VERY 1st PLAY of team drills / 11-on-11's, Saints QB Drew Brees hit a WIDE-OPEN Alvin Kamara on a wheel-route down the right sideline, which the 2nd year superstar promptly "took to the house" for what would have been a 70-yard catch-and-run for an easy TD.