Everybody spent the offseason focusing on Josh Hill after the Saints traded Jimmy Graham, tabbing the young tight end as the heir apparent in the red zone.
Ben Watson, for the most part, was overlooked, a product of his 12 years in the league and four touchdown catches in two seasons in New Orleans.
So far, with Hill sidelined with a minor injury, Watson has spent the past two days proving he can still be a dangerous threat inside the 20, catching three touchdowns on Thursday and making two more key catches during Friday’s scrimmage.
“I’ve got a lot of trust and confidence in Ben,” Drew Brees said. “He’s just the starting Y now, whereas last year Jimmy was the starting Y. But Ben’s always played an important role.”
Watson won’t be asked to replace Graham’s production, a fact the 12-year veteran has repeated all summer long.
But he knows the Saints will continue to use the tight end, even if the opportunities decrease a bit without Graham.
“A lot of that is definitely because of Jimmy, because a lot of the offense revolved around him,” Watson said. “The good thing about this offense is that everybody gets an opportunity. The ball gets spread around.”
Watson isn’t ready to make any proclamations about how much he’ll get the ball this season. With the tight end group hit hard by injuries — the Saints scrimmaged with just Watson and Orson Charles available Friday — he knows it’s still early.
“It’s always encouraging to get the ball,” Watson said. “But it’s still early in camp. I’m just happy to be healthy.”
Andrus Peat got all the work he could handle in the first scrimmage of his Saints career.
And then some.
Peat took snaps with all three units in Friday’s scrimmage, stepping in at left tackle with the starters in place of starter Terron Armstead, who was limited to no contact again.
“Well, we didn’t rep Terron, and he will be back on Sunday, so any time there is a tackle or one lineman out, we would add a rep or two so those younger guys can learn,” Saints coach Sean Payton said.
The workload took a toll on Peat, who struggled through the eight 100-yard runs that the team went through to finish the practice.
Veteran Zach Strief said Peat’s conditioning will eventually get up to speed.
“It’s a process. The first thing to recognize is he’d just finished a 13-play drive and then ran 800 yards, so it’s not ideal for a lineman,” Strief said. “The conditioning stuff is going to come.”
The Saints tried out two tight ends on Friday to take the place of undrafted free agent Jack Tabb, who went down with an injury on Thursday.
They signed Alex Smith, a veteran of 10 seasons in the NFL and four teams, and waived Tabb with an injury designation on Friday.
The Saints also tried out UMass tight end Jean Sifrin, according to a source.
Former defensive tackle Glenn Foster also cleared waivers after being waived on Thursday.
Smith, who was drafted in the third round out of Stanford in 2005 by Tampa Bay, has played for the Buccaneers, Eagles, Browns and Bengals, although he played in just two games for Cincinnati last season.
Five observations from the practice field:
1 WR Marques Colston hit the ground running. After being held out or limited early in camp, he participated in the scrimmage and looked good from the start.
2CB Delvin Breaux does something to impress the audience in nearly every practice. This time the thing that stood out most was his ability to help out in run support.
3Another little fight broke out Friday. This time it was 5-foot-11 WR Willie Snead locking horns with 6-foot-4 CB Brandon Browner.
4RB Mark Ingram is catching a lot of passes that aren’t screens. Perhaps he’s taking on a bigger role in the passing offense.
5S Jairus Byrd continues to go through his rehab work. RB C.J. Spiller was held out of action after getting dinged up. It’s not considered serious.