WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — As they prepare to face their former defensive coordinator for the first time since he left the team, the Saints fired up some infamous film: the game when Gregg Williams ordered blitz after blitz in the 2011 preseason opener against San Francisco.
“It was (an all-out) blitz like four times out of nine, so we know it’s going to be great work for the quarterbacks, for the (offensive) line, for the tight ends, for everybody,” said New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham, whose Saints play their first exhibition game Friday at St. Louis, where Williams is now defensive coordinator.
Williams was in his third and final year with the Saints when New Orleans hosted San Francisco in the first week of the preseason. The Saints unleashed a pass rush that racked up six first-half sacks and 10 quarterback hits en route to a 24-3 victory. Riding an offense that set all sorts of NFL records, the Saints made it to the divisional round of the playoffs — and lost at San Francisco.
Williams and Saints coach Sean Payton then were suspended from the NFL following the bounty scandal. In 2013, four seasons after they won Super Bowl XLIV together, Payton returned to the Saints, and Williams joined Tennessee as an assistant coach. Williams now is entering his first year coordinating St. Louis’ defense.
It remains to be seen how zealously Williams sends his charges after New Orleans’ quarterbacks. But the Saints are accounting for the possibility that he could throw everything and the kitchen sink at them: They rehearsed blitz pickups for a period of practice Wednesday at The Greenbrier.
“That’s who he is, and he brings it, so we have to be ready for that,” said Graham, who led New Orleans with 1,215 receiving yards and the NFL with 16 TD grabs in 2013.
It’s not known whether Williams will factor into this decision, but Payton on Wednesday said he hadn’t decided on the availability Friday of quarterback Drew Brees. Brees has been out with a strained oblique since Aug. 2 but was feeling “much better,” Payton said.
Nonetheless, it’d be surprising if Brees participated in Friday’s game. Ryan Griffin and Luke McCown — battling for the No. 2 quarterback job — have been alternating reps with the first-team offense during Brees’ absence.
‘I’ll fight anybody’
It doesn’t matter if it’s two of his team’s starting safeties and its No. 1 cornerback trying to push him around: Backup receiver Charles Hawkins won’t stand for it.
He left no doubt about that after hauling in a pass from fourth-string quarterback Logan Kilgore during a drill that pitted the signal-caller and several reserves on offense against the 1s on defense.
Hawkins was entangled with safety Rafael Bush at the end of the play, and shoving ensued. Then, cornerback Keenan Lewis got in Hawkins’ face. Hawkins subsequently re-engaged Bush and clashed with safety Kenny Vaccaro, exchanging pushes and the like before the rest of the team rushed over to separate the players.
Hawkins afterward assured his differences with Bush, Lewis and Vaccaro end on the practice field.
“It’s just a part of the competition — we are all brother, teammates,” he said. Yet he added, “Everyone on this team has a chip on their shoulder. I do, too. I’ll fight anybody.”
A team spokesman said Saints owner Tom Benson — treated twice for altitude-related problems since training camp began in West Virginia’s Allegeny Mountains — is back in New Orleans and won’t attend Friday’s game at St. Louis. ... Other players whose availability Friday is in doubt after missing practice Wednesday: CBs Champ Bailey and Terrence Frederick; WRs Kenny Stills and Andy Tanner; FB Erik Lorig; LG Ben Grubbs and RG Jahri Evans; TE Je’Ron Hamm; NT John Jenkins and LB Victor Butler.
Between the lines
The Advocate’s Nick Underhill’s five observations from Wednesday’s practice session:
1. Nose tackle John Jenkins (pec) appears to be ramping up his rehab work. He went into a three-point stance and did sprints.
2.Terron Armstead has been giving Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette everything they can handle in camp. Hopes are high for the second-year tackle.
3.After losing in a run-blocking drill, Akiem Hicks loudly and passionately demanded a second chance. He performed better the second time.
4.Keenan Lewis and Charles Hawkins got into a fight. Lewis fled the scene, and Rafael Bush took over. Hawkins said everything was smoothed over by the time practice ended.
5.Kicker Shayne Graham connected from 39, 43, 51 and 53 yards. Derek Dimke missed from 53.