Take a look at the Saints’ roster. There’s reason for optimism entering training camp, which kicks off with the team’s first practice Thursday at The Greenbrier in West Virginia.
This isn’t the same team that gradually cut off its own limbs last season and staggered to a 7-9 finish. The defense should be better, there are still enough weapons in the passing game to move the ball and the running game could be something special.
This edition of the Saints looks better — on paper, at least.
The only problem is reality doesn’t often follow the script as it’s written in July. New Orleans found that out last year when the season opened with dreams of diamonds and rings and ended with a tattered box full of disappointment. Very rarely do things play out as expected.
For the Saints to get back on the right side of .500 and make a playoff push, a lot of things will have to break in their favor. The favorable view on paper has been doodled with an optimistic hand.
Take a look at that roster again. A lot of key areas are filled with players and scenarios that are based on “ifs” and “thens.” Looking at things through a different prism, one might walk away with a more pessimistic view of this team’s fortunes.
If Jairus Byrd bounces back, the secondary will be good.
If Dannell Ellerbe can turn back the clock, the linebackers will be much improved.
If Brandon Coleman, Josh Hill and Nick Toon develop, the passing game will be fine.
The list goes on.
It’s not a bad position to be in. Not every scenario needs to come up favorably for the Saints to enjoy success. They just need to find success more often than failure to get there.
It shouldn’t be surprising that New Orleans enters camp with some uncertainty after an offseason full of turnover. It was expected. The team traded away tight end Jimmy Graham, who was on his way to becoming a franchise icon, and its best young receiver, Kenny Stills, this offseason.
Pass rusher Junior Galette, linebacker Curtis Lofton, running back Pierre Thomas, cornerbacks Corey White and Patrick Robinson and guard Ben Grubbs were also among those released, allowed to walk or traded this offseason.
A new identity is being formed. Center Max Unger was acquired in the Graham trade, and New Orleans also signed running back C.J. Spiller to pair with Mark Ingram. If everything goes to plan, the team should be much improved on the ground. And Spiller has the potential to be one of the better pass-catching backs in the NFL.
Most of the attention, however, was paid to defense. The Saints drafted linebacker Stephone Anthony and pass rusher Hau’oli Kikaha after signing cornerback Brandon Browner and pass rusher Anthony Spencer. They also acquired Ellerbe from Miami in the Stills trade.
The only sure thing in that group is Browner. Both Spencer and Ellerbe are trying to bounce back from injuries and down seasons, while the rookies will be racing to get up to speed and make an impact.
The biggest wild card in the whole bunch is corner Delvin Breaux, who was signed out of the CFL but has the potential to make an immediate impact.
The good news is that most of the moves them appear to have been calculated and are more likely to pay off than not.
Spencer might be aging, but he had his best seasons in Dallas under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Ellerbe struggled in Miami while playing out of position and in a scheme and position that didn’t suit his strengths. Spiller was miscast in an uninventive offense in Buffalo the past two seasons. With the creative Sean Payton drawing up plays, he should get back on track.
As far as the receivers go, there’s little film on Coleman, Seantavius Jones and tight end Josh Hill, but the coaching staff has gotten to know all of these players and is confident they’ll find a way to deliver. All one can do is trust that Payton made the right call.
The good news is that no one will be gifted anything. Competition exists at several key spots, and players will spend the next month fighting for jobs and snaps. If someone isn’t up to the task, there should be another player ready to step in and do the job.
Any missteps should come out in the wash.
If they do, and everything works out, this team might have the goods to make a run at the playoffs.
If they don’t, it might be time to fill up another tattered box with shattered dreams.