Even without Brees, offense starts fast in Saints scrimmage _lowres

Photo by Advocate contributor Gary Estwick

As expected, the Black and Gold scrimmage Saturday morning opened with lots of action.

The first surprise was Saints QB Drew Brees not being in pads, allowing plenty of snaps for backups Luke McCown, Ryan Griffin and Logan Kilgore.

They made the most of their increased workloads, all leading TD drives out of the gate — McCown with the 1s on offense against the second-team defense; Griffin with the 2s on offense versus the 1s on defense; and Kilgore with the backups.

McCown's drive was capped off with a short-yardage run by RB Mark Ingram, set up by an earlier long gain from RB Khiry Robinson.

Griffin's was set up by a spectacularly-caught pass of about more than 40 yards by rookie WR Brandin Cooks, who turned back for the ball, leapt for it and fell back with the ball inside the 2. Griffin then flipped a short screen pass to the right to FB Austin Johnson, who reeled it in and ran untouched for the score.

For Cooks dazzling is nothing new. Meanwhile, Johnson has been quietly having a solid offseason and training camp, getting lots of snaps on special teams and catching the ball consistently out of the backfield with the reserves while vying for a long-shot chance to make the roster as backup hybrid fullback/tight end.

Kilgore's drive was capped off with a handoff to RB Travaris Cadet, who began right, cut back left and ran in from 20 yards out for a score. Cadet's consistently shown that ability since training camp practices began at The Greenbrier resort on July 25, something he attributes to his film study.

More moments of note:

--Cooks posted another highlight play later in the scrimmage. He caught a pass along the right sideline, evaded CB Rod Sweeting by spinning past him, and ran in for a long score. He's stolen the show a number of times this training camp, and the scrimmage was not an exception.

--The scrimmage began with field-goal drills. Kicker Derek Dimke was perfect on his three tries, but veteran incumbent Shayne Graham missed one of his attempts. It's the second consecutive day Graham missed a field goal kick in a head-to-head drill with Dimke, and the heat is on for him.

--Backup defensive lineman Tyrunn Walker sacked McCown on the first drive of the game. McCown was apparently sacked on a later drive by star LB Junior Galette, and on the following play holding was called on what looked like it could've been a sack.

--Saints TE Jimmy Graham caught a pass in the end zone from McCown, dunked the ball over the crossbar -- and was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct. Cheers of elation quickly turned to disappointed boos at the referee.

--Saints S Marcus Ball, out of the Canadian Football League and vying to make the roster as a reserve, picked off McCown on a later drive. He tried to run it back along the left sideline but was tripped up by Ingram. That'll help him keep pace as his undrafted rookie counterpart Pierre Warren has flashed prior to Saturday, watching the 1s work in walkthroughs while breaking passes up and picking one off with the 2s.

That wasn't Ball's only moment of note. Billed as an attack safety in the mold of former Saint Roman Harper, to end the scrimmage, he sliced through the middle of the offensive line on a blitz to receive credit for a sack.

--Rookie Saints S Vinnie Sunseri, a fifth-round draft selection out of Alabama, lined up with the 1s for a portion. He'd been watching them work in walkthroughs while lining up with Warren with the 2s.

--Backup Saints WR Charles Hawkins looked good fielding punts, showing sure hands before turning on the jets on the runbacks.

--Later on, Saints undrafted rookie running back Derrick Strozier swept left and tiptoed up the sideline for a TD from about 10 yards out. Strozier, out of Tulane, was working with the third team. That's a good moment for him as he tries to convince the Saints to carry him in addition to virtual roster locks Ingram, Pierre Thomas, Khiry Robinson and Cadet at RB.

--Backup rookie Saints TE Je'Ron Hamm was shaken up while blocking on a kick return. He was helped off the field.

--As has been the case lately, Saints WR Kenny Stills, LG Ben Grubbs and NT John Jenkins did not participate and stuck to conditioning work on the side. Joining them were rookie WR Steve Hull and backup CB Terrence Frederick. Veteran Saints cornerback Champ Bailey and reserve T Ty Nsekhe were not spotted.