One of the biggest questions that surrounds the New Orleans Saints as they draw closer to their 2018 NFL Season Opener in 42 more days from now is: can this year's defense be at least as good as last year's, and possibly become one of the very best in the entire League?
If today's rain-soaked practice was any indication, you'd have to believe that they could do exactly that.
On a day where the defense forced 6 turnovers and made the offense appear as if they hadn't woken up and got out of bed yet; all the while making Saints head coach Sean Payton scream out a litany of expletives at the offense's sub-par performance, it was the defense that was the talk of the day after the team concluded practice a short while ago.
In what some of my fellow members in Saints Media say was one of the better overall Training Camp performances EVER by a Saints defense in all of their respective years covering the team, the defense absolutely DOMINATED at times; and surely put the whole League on notice that this year's unit could be even BETTER than it was last season.
The Saints jumped up 21 spots last year from 31st overall to #10 overall in total points allowed; and if they exhibit this level of play heading into September when the games actually begin to count in the standings, it could give New Orleans a very distinctive advantage over their opponents.
Yesterday as you'll recall it was the Saints defensive line that came up "big", and today it spread to the linebacker corps. Among the stand-out performers were starters Alex Anzalone (who intercepted a Tom Savage pass for what likely would have been a "Pick 6", Demario Davis (with a great pass break-up in coverage at the goal line and an interception on the final play of practice), and even Nate Stupar; who forced a fumble by RB Terrance West that was recovered by CB Arthur Maulet.
Yes, it's not even officially Pre-Season yet, but just know this: this defense appears to be as every bit as good as they were last year; and IF they're able to avoid any major injury concerns or a lack of fundamentally sound execution, then this year's 2018 team could be a memorable one for generations of fans to come..
Just remember: today is still only July 30th. Let's see how things look at the end of November or December, and not just the 5th Practice of Camp.
Nevertheless: this year's defense has "Top 5", written all over it.
ANIMATED, SPIRITED, LIVELY — JUST A FEW OF THE F***** WORDS TO DESCRIBE TODAY'S PRACTICE
In what certainly had to be the most animated, spirited, and lively Saints practices that I've personally ever seen, EVERY MEMBER of the team — both players and assistant coaches alike — were yelling out words of encouragement to the participants on the field; before, during, and after EACH individual play.
Among the most memorable: 70-year special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff, who limped onto the field aided by his walking cane, to exhort CB / punt return "gunner" Arthur Maulet after he missed an opportunity to down a punt inside the 5 yard-line; secondary / DB coach Aaron Glenn "pumping up" his CB's (specifically Marshon Lattimore and Patrick Robinson); and a VISIBLY annoyed Sean Payton who at one point yelled out (in a voice that the entire Camp could hear) to his offensive unit:
"You better get your sh*t together, or we'll be out here all f*cking day".
Not surprisingly all that long after Payton's "words of wisdom", Brees hit WR Ted Ginn, Jr. for what would have been a 50-yard plus TD reception.
Suffice it to say: Payton's message was received, loud and clear.
PLAY OF THE DAY:
Alex Anzalone's interception of Tom Savage in 11-on-11's, that likely would have gone for a "Pick 6"
PLAYER OF THE DAY:
"P-Rob" a.k.a. Patrick Robinson, who seemingly was in on nearly every pass break-up that the secondary made; drawing excited praise from 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 today confirmed it.
OTHER NEWS AND NOTES:
Another stand-out performer: rookie UDFA WR Keith Kirkwood; who really had a great day with a TD catch while seeing increased snaps, thanks to the absence of the injured Travin Dural (who likely is out for the remainder of the year).
Both rookie defensive end Marcus Davenport and veteran tight end Ben Watson left the field with the help of trainers, but neither injury (as of now) appears to be serious; and we'll update their status as the details become available.
A very special "thank you' to FOX 8 New Orleans sports anchor Garland Gillen, for all of his great video clips from today's wet and wild practice session.