The New Orleans Saints spent the offseason retooling their roster and finding ways to create better competition across the board.
The idea behind the process was to make players feel uncomfortable and create an atmosphere where players are fighting for every opportunity, snap or job.
While this approach isn’t unique to this season, the level of competition at some spots is better than it might have been in previous years. Several key spots will see players battling for jobs at the top of the roster, while a handful of other guys will be fighting at the other end to stay on the team.
We’ll count down some of the other aspects to watch for during training camp over the next week, but today we start with a batch of players who will head to West Virginia on the roster bubble:
WR Josh Morgan
Morgan was a pleasant surprise during offseason workouts and appears to be in position to compete for a job. His ability to make the team will depend on whether he runs away with this opportunity.
While younger receivers like Brandon Coleman and Seantavius Jones could make the team based on potential, possibly serving as an inactive player on game days, the veteran Morgan will need to be within the top four players on the depth chart to stick around.
Morgan brings a different skill set than some of the other players on the roster, which could help him. One other major factor could be whether the Saints believe they can sneak someone like Jones or Coleman back on the practice squad if he underwhelms during the preseason.
FB Austin Johnson
Johnson put together a solid stretch during the first half of last season filling in for Erik Lorig, who was nursing a leg injury. But with Lorig healthy, Johnson will have to win the job outright to keep his roster spot.
It could be argued that Johnson, who suffered a knee injury and landed on injured reserve in November, was just as good, if not better than Lorig as a run blocker last season. But Lorig brings better hands and more experience.
There are also financial implications in play. Releasing Lorig, who has three years left on his deal, would leave New Orleans with $750,000 of dead money.
QB Ryan Griffin
Griffin is another player who can no longer survive on potential alone. With Drew Brees and third-round pick Garrett Grayson locks to make the team, Luke McCown and Griffin have to battle it out for one spot.
McCown and Griffin found themselves in a similar battle last year entering preseason, and McCown came out as the victor despite battling a hand injury. Griffin spent the year on the practice squad, where he could have been picked up by any of the NFL’s other teams.
The possibility remains that neither of these players will make the team. Coach Sean Payton has said it’s too soon to determine whether the rookie will get a “redshirt” year to learn behind the scenes.
If he steps up and shows an ability to handle the job when disaster strikes, then Griffin and McCown could be looking for new jobs.
KR Jalen Saunders
There were several weeks last year when you didn’t feel the need to rush back from the concession stand after a touchdown because there was little chance the Saints were going to do anything exciting on the return. Saunders showed up and changed all of that.
The question now is whether his ability in this phase of the game is enough for him to earn a roster spot. He hasn’t demonstrated much in the passing game — though that could change — so it seems likely that his value is going to be determined by his contributions on special teams.
His top contender appears to be rookie Marcus Murphy, a seventh-round running back out of Missouri, though others on the roster will be given the opportunity to step up and change the conversation.
CBs Brian Dixon and Terrence Frederick
The conversation at cornerback has changed mightily with Brandon Browner, Delvin Breaux, P.J. Williams and Damian Swann joining Keenan Lewis at the position this offseason.
All of those players are locks or near locks to make the team, and that’s before considering 2014 second-round pick Stanley Jean-Baptiste is still on the roster.
While some might be ready to throw in the towel on Jean-Baptiste, his draft stock suggests it’s too soon to consider such a move. He likely would have to take a major step back during training camp before he even falls on the bubble.
For Dixon or Frederick to make the roster, both players are going to have to put up a major fight during camp.