The first Saints training camp practice is just 12 days away, as the first glimpse of the team comes on July 29 during a non-padded session. Seven open practices are available for fans to attend this season, and are sure to be packed out events. There's a lot of items on the calendar before we get to Week 1 of the season, but the reality is that camp will take center stage in a very short timeframe. Here's some of the best individual battles we're looking forward to.
Marshon Lattimore vs. Michael Thomas
Two of Ohio State's finest are always must-see action when going head-to-head in one-on-one drills. Of course, what we see of Michael Thomas hinges on the health of his ankle. Sean Payton said in minicamp that Thomas was looking good, but that the Saints were still monitoring, paying attention to, and scanning his ankle. He also mentioned that he was getting treatment and doing the necessary things. New Orleans needs Thomas in a big way this season, regardless of who plays quarterback.
As for Lattimore, he's been the team's top corner for years, but his outlook is a bit cloudy going into this season due to potential league discipline for an off-the-field incident in late March. He's playing a fifth-year option this season, unless the Saints can get some type of contract extension in place before training camp. That wouldn't be uncommon, as it happened to Alvin Kamara last season. Lattimore's importance and availability at cornerback is crucial to the defensive success. It'll be good to see how he and Thomas battle at training camp.
Blake Gillikin vs. Nolan Cooney
For the first time in a long time, we have a true battle at punter. We talked a bit about Gillikin and Cooney duking it out in our special teams position preview. All puns aside, Gillkin has the early leg up in the competition. Cooney joined the team as an undrafted rookie out of Syracuse this offseason, and has an incredible story. He finished 15th in the nation with a 44.8 yard average per punt in 2020, and that ended up being the best in Syracuse history.
Expect the stopwatches to come out, extra emphasis on downed punts inside the 20-yard-line, and how each young player is able to handle some added pressure in the preseason. Filling the void left behind Thomas Morstead is no easy feat, but both of these players look to be up to the challenge.
Jameis Winston vs. Taysom Hill
It's going to be the battle of Saints training camp. We've seen countless back and forth takes on who has the edge and who will be the starter for New Orleans, and we're sure to get some answers in just a couple of weeks. What's important to remember is that we should see both taking starter reps, and that one day of looking good at practice really doesn't mean much.
What this battle could come down to is the preseason, which can present better game situations for each. We've seen some players do well in training camp but fall flat in games, and it's a big deal that we even get a few preseason games this year. Both Winston and Hill have starting experience, and obviously Winston has a lot more of it. Every throw and choice will go under the microscope until we get a true winner.
Payton Turner vs. Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk
The Saints used their 28th overall pick in the draft to take the Houston edge rusher, which surprised many. You can never have too many pass rushers, and Turner is a large physical specimen that brings a lot of intrigue. Turner said that he likes to be a violent presence on the edge, and the Saints have two of the league's best tackles to practice against.
"I'm a different dude for sure when I'm on the field, whether at practice or especially the game," Turner said in mid-June.
With the recent suspension of David Onyemata, it will also be interesting to see if they rotate someone like Turner inside. Ryan Ramczyk just got a well-deserved contract extension recently, and Terron Armstead is coming off one of his best seasons with the Saints. The rookie vs. the veterans always makes for good entertainment.
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