With four weeks of their offseason program for veterans already in the books, the New Orleans Saints coaches will get their first look at the 18 players they drafted or signed after the draft in a three-day minicamp that begins Friday.
The Saints are set to have 70 players at their Metairie practice facility; they’re allowed to bring in members of their practice squad last season as well as veterans and rookies who will participate on a tryout basis.
In addition to orientation and classroom work with their position coaches, the players will be on the field twice Friday and Saturday and wrap up the weekend with a single practice Sunday.
The Saints will have the five players they selected in the draft last month on hand along with 13 college players who agreed to contracts with the team after the three-day draft.
The list includes safety Kenny Vaccaro, the 15th overall pick, and their two third-round selections — tackle Terron Armstead and defensive tackle John Jenkins. Wide receiver Kenny Stills Jr. and outside linebacker Rufus Johnson, who were chosen in the fifth and sixth rounds, round out the list of draftees.
Four players participating on a tryout basis are from LSU or Southern: former Tigers kicker Josh Jasper and defensive tackle Josh Downs and ex-Jaguars wide receiver Charles Hawkins and defensive back Chantz Stevenson.
Here are five things Saints coaches could be looking for during the three-day camp, which is closed for the most part to media — except for a 30-minute window Saturday — and in its entirety to fans:
1. Where will first-round pick Kenny Vaccaro line up?
During a four-year career at Texas, Vaccaro filled a number of roles while starting games at free and strong safety and outside and middle linebacker. The Saints envision him playing either safety spot as well as the nickel back when they go to five defensive backs, so they’ll be eager to get their first extended look at him.
2. Does Terron Armstead have a chance to start at left tackle?
The Saints need a new left tackle after Pro Bowler Jermon Bushrod left in free agency, so Armstead will get an early opportunity to see whether he can be the man and beat out Charles Brown. While Armstead is raw and unpolished, he started the last 32 games of his career at left tackle and soared up the draft charts with rare speed and quickness for a 6-foot-5, 304-pounder.
3. Can massive John Jenkins help plug up the middle at defensive tackle?
The players won’t practice in pads, so they won’t get a chance to see how Jenkins could help a defense that gave up 147.6 rushing yards per game and 5.3 yards per attempt last fall. What they’ll get a good grasp on is Jenkins’ work ethic and how he manages his 6-4, 359-pound frame, although coach Sean Payton said the coaches expect him to play at between 340 and 345.
4. Do the Saints have another small-school gem in Rufus Johnson?
Like Armstead, Johnson, who played at Division II Tarleton State, exhibited 4.72-second speed in the 40-yard dash during pre-draft workouts and caught the eye of several teams. Johnson is a solid pass rusher who had 10 sacks last year, and the Saints believe the 272-pounder has the speed and ability to make the transition from defensive end to outside linebacker to help at a critical position in the new 3-4 scheme.
5. Which undrafted free agents will impress?
The early favorites are Tulane quarterback Ryan Griffin and Stanford linebacker Chase Thomas. Griffin threw for more than 9,000 yards in college, and many think he has the skills and ability to earn a roster spot — although he likely will be ticketed for the practice squad if the Saints like what they see. Thomas was projected as a third- or fourth-round pick but inexplicably fell through the cracks; he’ll be motivated to prove people wrong.