Training camp is here.
The battle for roster spots, snaps, and roles will begin this week at team’s practice facility at The Greenbrier in West Virginia and will carry out until final roster cuts.
It’s too soon to know how things will play out. Last year, no one would have expected Brian Dixon to beat out Champ Bailey for a spot at cornerback. There are always surprises and injuries that change the narrative.
But for the sake of setting the stage and providing a barometer for the movement that takes place over the next several weeks, here’s a guess at how the 53-man roster would look if it had to be assembled today:
In: Drew Brees, Luke McCown, Garrett Grayson
Out: Ryan Griffin
Our take: The ideal situation would be to have Grayson win out over McCown and Griffin, but that might be wishful thinking. Considering McCown won the job last year and Griffin spent the year on the practice squad, the veteran backup gets the early nod.
Running backs (4)
In: Mark Ingram, C.J. Spiller, Khiry Robinson, Tim Hightower
Out: Marcus Murphy, Edwin Baker
Our take: There isn’t a return specialist on this roster projection. So it’s possible Murphy could have the edge over Hightower in that regard, but the thinking here is the team could have two established players handle return duties. Perhaps Spiller returns punts and Robinson handles kicks.
In: Austin Johnson
Out: Erik Lorig, Toben Opurum
Our take: Johnson put together a strong run of games early in the season while Lorig was nursing an injury, and then Lorig was slow getting up to speed after Johnson went down with an injury. This will be a tight battle.
Wide receivers (5)
In: Brandin Cooks, Marques Colston, Nick Toon, Brandon Coleman, Seantavius Jones
Out: Josh Morgan, Joe Morgan, Jalen Saunders, Willie Snead, R.J. Harris, Lance Lewis, Kyle Prater
Our take: Josh Morgan was one of the more difficult cuts to make. He brings a different set of skills to the table and would give the offense another element. In this scenario, he’s a candidate to be brought back after Week 1 on a non-guaranteed salary.
Tight ends (3)
In: Benjamin Watson, Josh Hill, Jack Tabb
Out: Orson Charles, Kevin Brock
Our take: This one is tough to call. We’re still finding out about Tabb and Charles. Tabb impressed enough during the offseason to give him the early inside edge.
Offensive line (8)
In: Zach Strief, Tim Lelito, Max Unger, Jahri Evans, Terron Armstead, Andrus Peat, Senio Kelemete, Sean Hickey
Out: Cole Manhart, Cyril Lemon, Mike Golic Jr., Bryce Harris, Antonio Johnson, Nick Becton, Mike McGlynn
Our take: This group is pretty well set at the top. The only spot for movement is at the end of the depth chart, where the undrafted Hickey has been given the nod.
Defensive line (6)
In: Cam Jordan, Akiem Hicks, Brodrick Bunkley, John Jenkins, Kevin Williams, Tyeler Davison
Out: Kaleb Eulls, Bobby Richardson, Tavaris Barnes, Glenn Foster, Lawrence Virgil, Ashaad Mabry
Our take: There’s a lot of competition at the bottom of the depth chart. Leaving Foster off was painful, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Eulls, Richardson, or Barnes makes a run for a roster spot. The veteran Williams is going to have to show he can still bring it.
Outside linebackers (6)
In: Anthony Spencer, Hau’oli Kikaha, Ronald Powell, Kasim Edebali, Davis Tull, Parys Haralson
Out: Markus Pierce-Brewster
Our take: This spot isn’t so much about who will make the team as much as it is about who will step up. Spencer and Kikaha are the early favorites to be key players, but Powell, Edebali and Tull could make a run at a role.
Inside linebackers (4)
In: Stephone Anthony, Dannell Ellerbe, Ramon Humber, David Hawthorne
Out: Jerry Franklin, Henry Coley
Our take: This is another spot that seems to be easy to handicap. Keep an eye on Coley. He received some snaps during the offseason program and caught the eye a few times.
In: Keenan Lewis, Brandon Browner, P.J. Williams, Delvin Breaux, Stanley Jean-Baptiste
Out: Damian Swann, Kyle Wilson, Brian Dixon, Terrence Frederick
Our take: Leaving Swann off the list was difficult. But if Breaux and Williams show the ability to handle the nickel cornerback position, then there’s no need to go three deep at that position. It’s too soon to throw in the towel on Jean-Baptiste, a former second-round pick.
In: Jairus Byrd, Kenny Vaccaro, Rafael Bush, Vinnie Sunseri, Pierre Warren
Out: Kenny Phillips, Jamarca Sanford
Our take: There could be some movement here. We’re still getting to know Phillips, and it’s possible an additional cornerback is kept on the roster at the expense of a safety. Swann has the versatility to play both positions.
In: Kicker Dustin Hopkins, long snapper Justin Drescher, punter Thomas Morstead
Out: Zach Hocker
Our take: Take your pick on the kickers. That race is still tight.