Anxiousness and impatience have taken over.
After watching the roster being assembled over the past few months, and several weeks of impatiently waiting to get a glimpse of how the players will fit the system, the natural inclination is to place value on whatever is happening during the offseason program.
At this time last year, Anthony Spencer looked like the fill-in for Junior Galette at defensive end, and it appeared the Saints would run a defense with two high safeties.
Neither Galette nor Spencer ended up being on the 53-man roster, and New Orleans predominately operated out of single-high safety sets.
So the warning is to take what happens during organized team activities and minicamp lightly. That is especially true on the offensive and defensive lines. At skill positions, where contact doesn’t impact what’s happening as much, it’s a little bit easier to identify a receiver who can separate or a cornerback with solid coverage skills.
On the line, where contact is everything, nothing you see can be taken seriously. A pass rusher who records a sack is doing so without an offensive lineman barreling into his chest. And an offensive lineman who looks like a road-grader is plowing over defensive linemen who aren’t fighting back.
Even the coaching staff struggles to assess the quality of competition this time of year.
“It’s harder to measure the fronts, your offensive and defensive lines, without pads on,” coach Sean Payton said. “I don’t know if there is one specific group. Each day has been a little something different; there have been some days where defensively we may have been better than we had offensively, or there will be a play or two.
“It would be hard right now to say one group’s stood out. Obviously, there’s a lot of competition but more importantly a lot of learning and corrections.”
That’s important to keep in mind this week during minicamp practices that will take place Tuesday through Thursday at the team’s facility on Airline Drive in Metairie. It’s significant to note who is getting snaps in place of Hau’oli Kikaha, who injured his knee, at defensive end. But the quality of those snaps might not mean anything.
Here are five other things to keep an eye on:
One of the challenges of trying to get a read off organized team activities is that you’re given a disjointed view of things. If a player shines or falters during the few practices open to the public, it can create a perception that might not be accurate.
Minicamp will provide an opportunity to monitor quarterback Garrett Grayson’s progression from last year over a three-day window. He looked good at times during organized team activities, looking significantly more comfortable than he did during last year’s OTAs, and made several good throws.
That’s not to say things were perfect. Grayson threw an interception during the final OTA open to the media at the goal line to Vonn Bell and was off on a couple of other throws. So the final review would be that things were mixed. But now we’ll be given the opportunity to get a fuller picture of where things stand.
Defensive end mix
While still premature, the rotation at defensive end will be something to keep an eye on this week.
A source said Kikaha suffered a torn ACL during practices last week, which means there is now a major void at the spot opposite Cam Jordan.
Kasim Edebali also has been rehabbing an undisclosed injury, and it remains possible outside help is brought in, but this will give us a glimpse of what the team is thinking at that spot.
Outside of Edebali, Obum Gwacham and Davis Tull are also options at the position.
Get in formation
This is the first offseason that defensive coordinator Dennis Allen has had with the team in his current role.
After taking over at the midway point last year, he was able to install some of his system, but not all of it. That changes this year, and one of the more interesting things to observe is how the defensive is lining up.
We’ve seen a bunch of different looks, which suggests that things are going to be a lot different from last year. Expect to see some three- and four-man fronts, as well as some different things going on in the secondary.
Can’t guard Mike
Michael Thomas was one of the bright spots during organized team activities, showing up with several flash plays and solid play in traffic.
The second-round pick was selected for that reason. New Orleans needs a big body at receiver to replace Marques Colston, and Thomas appears to be ready to step up and claim the job.
It’s early, and a lot can change between now and the start of the season, but it appears he has the inside track on that job.
For the guys lower on the roster, there is no waiting for camp. The journey to make the 53-man roster starts now, and every mistake is a missed opportunity to make their case.
Wide receivers Willie Snead and R.J. Harris started making their cases early last year and started to appear on the radar during minicamp last season. Snead, of course, made the team and nearly finished with 1,000 yards. Harris did not.
But Harris is back now and steadily made plays during OTAs. He and the other guys trying to make the team need to continue on that path this week.