WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — There have been fireworks. Plenty of them. But none quite brought the boom like the one that arrived Wednesday afternoon.
While it’s not quite clear what started it all, near the end of practice something happened after wide receiver Charles Hawkins caught a pass on the right to set the defense off. The situation escalated quickly.
Cornerback Keenan Lewis went after Hawkins. Then suddenly Rafael Bush and Corey White and Kenny Vaccaro were involved. Hawkins, a former Southern University player, was outnumbered, badly, but he stood tall and fought it out.
It might have looked bad, but there was nothing personal behind the fight. The players washed their hands of it as soon as practice was over. This is the kind of thing that happens in camp.
“We’re all Saints players. If you can’t scrap your brother, then who can you scrap?” defensive end Cameron Jordan said. “We’re one family and we’re one team, so honestly that fight on the field is just going to make you that much stronger and make you that much more tenacious on the field when you go against somebody you don’t know and don’t care about.”
The Saints don’t care about the St. Louis Rams. And finally, after going against the same players for 11 practices, they will see a new set of players to hit and compete against. New Orleans has 11 more practices before it escapes the doldrums of camp, but a little bit of variety will be injected into the process during Friday’s preseason opener in St. Louis.
The players can’t wait.
“I think, more or less, we’re just ready to hit somebody else,” tight end Jimmy Graham said. “We’ve been beating up on each other for the last two weeks. Things are getting a little heated out here today, and so I think it’s time to finally hit somebody else.”
But beyond cracking pads with someone wearing a different emblem, a handful of players need to start putting together their string of hits on film — and not just the kind of hits that caused Wednesday’s dustup. They need to create highlight moments.
The Saints have been noncommittal about whether quarterback Drew Brees will play Friday after dealing with a strained left oblique this week. If he is unable to go, it could, however, be beneficial for the quarterbacks vying to be the top backup.
Ryan Griffin received the snaps with the first-team offense during Wednesday’s practice, while incumbent backup Luke McCown was with the second unit. It’s possible the Saints will only carry two quarterbacks into the season.
On the offensive line, it’s possible guard Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs will be held out. Grubbs has not practiced since last week, and Evans has missed the past two sessions. The injuries for both players are unknown.
If those two are unable to play, it’s likely Senio Kelemete and Marcel Jones will likely receive the snaps. With spots tight across the offensive line, a strong performance by either player could give them an inside track to be one of the initial 53 men on the team.
It will be the same for wide receivers Seantavious Jones, Brandon Coleman, Nick Toon, and Joseph Morgan, who are fighting for jobs at wide receiver. And in the case of Robert Meachem, he will be looking to keep that crop of players from climbing up the depth chart.
Then there are the guys like wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, who will be looking to make the team as a special teams player.
For guys who are locks to make the roster, the preseason is only an outlet to hit other players and work on tuning things up. For those who are looking to make a mark and find a way to break into the league, these games are everything.
So for them, the chance to seize their dreams begins Friday night.