Answering reader questions about the Saints.
The Saints could look to bring in a veteran player to provide depth and compete at defensive end. But I think the team is going to give Hau’oli Kikaha a shot to win the job. Sean Payton said as much at the NFL’s annual meeting in March.
It makes sense. Kikaha was one of the more productive seven-technique defensive ends while in college and his skills are probably better suited for the role. He made sense as a rush linebacker but wasn’t as strong dropping into coverage.
All of the moves New Orleans made this offseason seem to point toward this happening. The linebacker group was remade, with Stephone Anthony seemingly moving from the middle to the SAM linebacker role. And there’s still a pretty big hole at defensive end opposite Cam Jordan. If Kikaha doesn’t fill the role, then it looks like Bobby Richardson will be the man for the job.
I was a big fan of Michael Thomas before the draft. That hasn’t changed.
I don’t think the stats told the full story on the passing offense. I did a project earlier this offseason where I went through and diagrammed some of the plays the Saints frequently ran, and it became clear to me that there was some inflation involved in those numbers.
The plays inside the 10-yard line were particularly iffy. Drew Brees completed less than 50 percent of his passes in this area.
I’m not a big fan of just “throwing it up” to a big receiver, but having that kind of target helps when there’s nothing else there. You need guys who can get open in traffic. I think Thomas can be that guy.
Going a little deeper, if you look at how the offense operates, this team also needed a player who could run the routes Colston used to run.
Brandon Coleman could do some of those things. Thomas can also be an option now.
This is a tough one to answer since we’ve seen very little from each of these players. If we boil it down and look at opportunity, I think both guys are walking into situations where they could contribute.
Tull should have a chance to earn some snaps in subpackages, and Williams could win snaps in the nickel package. Both guys will have some competition to overcome. Tull will be up against Kasim Edebali and Obum Gwacham. Williams will be up against Damian Swann, who was a pleasant surprise last season as a rookie.
I liked the Williams pick a lot last year. I thought he was a steal in the third round. Forced to pick one, I’ll resort back to that. But I could see this going either way.
Before knowing what the haul of undrafted players brought in will produce, I think the hope has to be that Zach Strief will serve as the right tackle, and Andrus Peat will be an option on the inside.
There are some notable names in that UDFA haul, including Landon Turner and Jack Allen, but no one knows how those guys will perform. So, for now, we have to count them as unknowns until they change the conversation.
Looking at it that way, the best combination of known commodities puts Strief on the outside and Peat competing with Tim Lelito and Senio Kelemete on the inside. Now, if Turner or Allen or someone else hits and emerges as one of the five best offensive linemen, then we start looking at Peat and Strief through more of a head-to-head lens.
I see both players as three-technique players. Sheldon Rankins is certainly better suited for that role, and I’m not sure that Nick Fairley has ever played nose.
I would be surprised if either of those guys played on the nose. But I have been surprised plenty of times before.
No clue on the first question. As far as changes go, we probably won’t know anything until training camp.
People will react and overreact to the things we see in organized team activities and minicamp (and I’ll probably be part of that), but nothing is set that early.
We didn’t see the Saints running a lot of single-high looks until camp last year. Bobby Richardson was unknown. Anthony Spencer was filling in for Junior Galette. Delvin Breaux was a curiosity. The best course of action is to just sit back and wait for camp.
I think it’s going to be James Laurinaitis.
He should bring better communication to the defense, which was a big issue last season, and is the key to a lot of the shifts we’re talking about with the defense. He allows Anthony to move to SAM and Kikaha to potentially be the answer at defensive end.
Other players may have more impact in terms of stats. I’m not sure anyone else changes the foundation the way he could.
I’m not sure what to expect yet. There are a lot of things that could look different next season. How those things materialize remains to be seen.
There are some things I would like to see, starting with more two-high safety looks in subpackages. I think Jairus Byrd and Vonn Bell could excel in those looks. That would then free up Kenny Vaccaro to do the things he’s so good at closer to the line of scrimmage.
I also would like to see the linebacker operate out of a more traditional 4-3 look. Kikaha often played on the line last season. I’d like to see Anthony back a little more.
I’m not putting any rookie in the starting lineup. The depth chart I put together last week had all the rookies in reserve roles. They have to earn those spots.
But Brandin Cooks had a pretty big role in his first year. Michael Thomas is a high-round pick and appears to be very talented. I’d be shocked if he doesn’t have a sizable role this season.
This is a bit beyond what I’m capable of answering. I know as much as you do about the plans for Drew Brees. I can say that I’d be shocked if he isn’t re-signed, but that doesn’t really mean much.
I also think the Saints will carry all three quarterbacks. The only way that changes is if Garrett Grayson shows up and dominates camp. That might then make McCown expendable.
But even if that happens, I expect all three to be on the team next year.
I think so. We can kind of slot guys in the starting lineup at all the other spots. That’s not possible at guard.
Going a little deeper, I think some spots on special teams are up for grabs. Marcus Murphy should have some competition as the returner, and the other gunner spot next to Brian Dixon remains open.
No one knows. And anyone who says they know are full of it. There’s a reason the Saints brought in so many players to compete for those spots.
The natural inclination is to side towards the names we know — Turner and Allen — but talk is just talk. We’ll find out when these guys start competing.
It’s possible. But I’d also caution that his agent, Eugene Parker, was battling a serious health issue and passed away in March when a lot of those contracts were being restructured.