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New Orleans Saints veterans report for training camp on Wednesday, and the intense competition for positions will begin Thursday.
This year’s camp offers plenty of intrigue as the Saints have so many spots that should be hotly contested. Between the draft picks and free-agent acquisitions, there are plenty of new faces who will have a chance to earn critical roles quickly.
Some of the battles are easier to predict than others. A group of defensive ends will compete to be in the rotation with Cameron Jordan, but Alex Okafor probably has an advantage over Darryl Tapp, rookies Trey Hendrickson and Al-Quadin Muhammad and other contenders.
Filling defensive tackle Nick Fairley’s void is one of the most important things for the Saints to do this season, but Sheldon Rankins and David Onyemata have a great leg up on any of the other options.
All competitions are important, of course, because no matter who wins a starting job, the team must pay attention to building depth around the roster.
Here’s a look at the five most important position battles for this year’s camp:
(Photo by David Guralnick, | The Times-Picayune)
Ryan Ramczyk , New Orleans Saints OTA May 25, 2017
Left tackle
This is one spot the Saints hoped wouldn’t be up for grabs, but with Terron Armstead (shoulder) out until at least October, the team has to rely on someone else to protect Drew Brees’ blind side.
Rookie Ryan Ramczyk, this year’s 32nd overall pick, seems the most likely candidate to replace Armstead, but don’t be surprised if he starts camp with the second- or third-team offense. Coaches often like to make rookies climb their way up before winning a starting gig.
However, counting on a rookie left tackle in Week 1 is rarely desirable. There are examples of players thriving immediately, like Taylor Decker with the Detroit Lions last year, but it’s certainly a position where experience is preferred.
Khalif Barnes might be the best option among the veterans. He’s 35 years old, but entering his 13th season in the NFL, he should be ready to help if needed, especially now that he’s in much better shape than his brief time with the Saints in 2016.
Bryce Harris, who’s entering his sixth year, is the other veteran option, but he has just four career starts, compared to Barnes’ 117.
The other possibility the Saints could consider is moving Andrus Peat from left guard to left tackle, which they did last year when Armstead dealt with his injuries, and have Senio Kelemete play left guard. The problem with that idea is that Kelemete will likely spend all of camp playing center because Max Unger won’t be available — he’s targeting Week 1 — so it’d be best for the Saints if Ramczyk, Barnes or Harris can impress at left tackle.
(Photo by David Grunfeld, | The Times-Picayune)
Delvin Breaux, New Orleans Saints host the Detroit Lions 2016
Every cornerback spot
No position on the Saints roster has more unanswered questions than cornerback entering 2017.
Can Delvin Breaux return to his status as a No. 1 cornerback? How good will Marshon Lattimore be? Can Damian Swann stay healthy? Can P.J. Williams stay healthy? Will Sterling Moore be better now that he’s been in the scheme for a year? What kind of improvement will Ken Crawley and De’Vante Harris show in Year 2?
All these and more should eventually have answers, but for now, it’s impossible to project which players will be in coverage for the Saints to open the season. The most likely starting group is Breaux and Lattimore on the outside with Moore playing nickel, but there’s going to be a lot of competition across the board.
The Saints hope Lattimore will be able to play right away, but rookie cornerbacks typically face an adjustment process harder than most positions. Williams showed promise last year before a season-ending concussion in Week 2. Crawley was so close to making a lot of plays last year that any improvement could help him earn a role on the outside.
At nickel, Swann has played well, but Moore has a lot more experience. The team also likes undrafted rookie Arthur Maulet a lot as someone who can play inside.
Cornerback play has been one of the Saints’ biggest weaknesses the past few years, so they certainly hope improved competition in camp will lead to better performance.
(Photo by David Grunfeld, |The Times-Picayune)
A.J. Klein, New Orleans Saints mini camp second day 2017
Middle linebacker
This could easily say every linebacker spot, but the competition in the middle is the most important and should be the most hotly contested. At weak side, Dannell Ellerbe is the favorite whenever he’s healthy, and even though there will be a good competition for the strong-side job, that player will play 30 percent of snaps or less.
Meanwhile, the Saints defense still largely runs through the middle linebacker, and finding someone who can make the right calls as well as be a plus player is imperative. In 2015, Stephone Anthony made plenty of plays, but struggled with the other minutiae of the position. Last year, James Laurinaitis earned the job largely because of his football IQ, but couldn’t make enough plays.
For 2017, A.J. Klein, Manti Te’o and Craig Robertson are the top contenders for the role, but Anthony will have a chance, too.
Klein has the most lucrative contract of the middle linebackers, so the front office obviously expects him to contribute. Te’o’s best film is better than the other options, and he’s moving to a 4-3 system where he should be more comfortable than he was in the Chargers’ 3-4. Robertson’s knowledge of the Saints scheme can’t be overlooked either, and Anthony still has untapped potential.
With Te’o expected to be healthy for camp after being extremely limited this offseason, it shouldn’t take long to have an idea of where this competition stands.
(Photo by David Grunfeld, | The Times-Picayune)
Long snappers: Saints OTAs 6/1/17
Long snapper
After moving on from Justin Drescher, the Saints are hoping an upgrade at long snapper can improve the rest of their special teams units.
The battle between Thomas Gafford and Chase Dominguez certainly won’t be at the top of fans’ minds this summer, but it will be one of the most important competitions throughout camp.
Gafford, 34, is the experienced option, having played nine seasons including seven (2008-14) for the Kansas City Chiefs. He signed with the Saints after impressing during a minicamp tryout this spring.
Dominguez, 23, is an undrafted rookie who joined the Saints after snapping for Utah the previous four years.
This is a tough competition to handicap, but one the Saints want to pick right to ensure special teams can make significant strides in the kicking game.
(Photo by Michael DeMocker, | The Times-Picayune)

Return duties
Yes, two special teams roles are on this list. The Saints had so many errors in this phase of the game last year that it’s important they try to improve in as many ways as possible.
The Saints have several candidates with return skills, and the roles could change throughout the season. But, if they can find someone who can provide better field position for Drew Brees and the rest of the offense, it would obviously benefit the team significantly.
Tommylee Lewis, Travaris Cadet and Marcus Murphy all had chances as return men last season. None provided much consistency, but they’ll be in the mix once again during camp.
Among the new guys, wide receiver Ted Ginn and rookie running back Alvin Kamara will certainly have a chance to return. Rookie receiver Justin Thomas, the former Georgia Tech quarterback, also has the desired speed and agility for returns.
The veteran Ginn has ample experience returning punts and kickoffs, and he’s already said he wants to fight for the punt return job. With seven career return touchdowns, Ginn has a strong chance at winning return duties.
Kamara returned 26 punts the past two years at Tennessee with a solid 10.9-yard average. He also scored one touchdown in 2015. Kamara returned just one kickoff in college, but he has all the traits teams look for in a returner. And if the Saints lean heavily on Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson, using Kamara on returns would be a good way to get him on the field.


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For the sixth consecutive offseason, we’re ranking the New Orleans Saints’ top players; this year it’ll be their top 20. We’ll publish a new player each weekday as we inch closer to training camp.

Eight players from last year’s list are no longer on this year’s list: No. 4 Brandin Cooks, No. 9 Stephone Anthony, No. 10 Keenan Lewis, No. 11 Coby Fleener, No. 16 James Laurinaitis, No. 17 Jairus Byrd, No. 19 Tim Hightower, No. 20 Thomas Morstead.

This year’s list brought a unique challenge with a 40 percent turnover from the 2016 top 20 rankings. It’s difficult to decipher how well some players will recover from injury. It’s also a challenge to determine how good some of the newbies (young and old) will fit into the mix.

I sense there won’t be a consensus outside the No. 1 player:

No. 3: WR Michael Thomas

Last year’s rank: NR

Season: 2; Age: 24; Height: 6-3; Weight: 212

The Saints still have a wide receiver I consider a top-five player on their roster. It’s just a different name from last season.

The 2016 second-round pick emerged quickly during training camp a year ago and his trajectory continues to be on an upswing. Thomas will enter the 2017 campaign as the clear No. 1 target in the passing game and top wide receiver on the roster.
Thomas ranked ninth in the NFL in receptions (92) and receiving yards (1,137) last season. He also ended with eight receiving touchdowns, which placed him tied for sixth overall. There’s no denying the synergy between Thomas and Drew Brees.

Thomas’ almost immediate impact helped the Saints feel comfortable enough to deal Cooks to New England in a blockbuster trade this offseason. Teams will undoubtedly focus on Thomas without Cooks on the field anymore. Thomas will have to learn to adjust to the added attention.

He’s already taken steps to mold himself into a prototypical wideout. Thomas added about 10 pounds of muscle to bump him up to around 220 pounds. Already standing, 6-foot-3, it’s the type of frame you’re looking for in a No. 1 receiver.


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New Orleans Saints superfan Jarrius Robertson has been selected to receive the Jimmy V Perseverance Award at The ESPYS on July 12, it was announced Wednesday.

Robertson, 15, has undergone two liver transplants and 13 surgeries, but his health hasn’t kept him from being the Saints’ biggest cheerleader. He’s become a fixture at games and has also joined the team for practices

“When I first heard the news I thought I was dreaming!” Robertson said in a statement. “The ESPYS? For real? The past two years have been a blessing in so many ways for me and my family. I have been able to do things I never thought I would be able to do. But to be included with Craig Sager, Stuart Scott, Leah and Devon Still, Eric LeGrand and the man himself, Jimmy V, is truly amazing and I am really grateful and humbled.”
New Orleans Saints 15-year-old “hype man” Jarrius Robertson has battled biliary atresia for the majority of his life. Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images
Robertson will be presented the award at the 25th annual ESPYS, which will air live on ABC from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.

Robertson, who signed a “contract” last year on “Good Morning America” to become an official “hype man” for the Saints, has become a larger-than-life figure around the team, handing out an award on the NFL Honors awards show with Saints coach Sean Payton and Harry Connick Jr. earlier this year, among other appearances.

“As a coach, I am sure that Coach Valvano would love the energy and enthusiasm Jarrius brings to each day,” Payton said. “He would be proud to know that his mission of never giving up has been embraced by a young man who represents all the qualities that he looked for in a person. Jarrius is a perfect torch bearer for the Jimmy V Perseverance Award as his story and mission of ‘It takes lives to save lives’ resonates and touches everyone on so many different levels.”

The Saints first met Robertson when players visited Ochsner Hospital for Children in December 2015. His dynamic personality was on full display as he offered them coaching advice and declared, “Tell Sean Payton you got a new defensive coordinator!”

The Jimmy V Perseverance Award is given to someone in sports who has overcome great obstacles through perseverance and determination. It is named for Valvano, the NCAA-winning coach who gave an emotional acceptance speech at the 1993 ESPYS that included his famous words “Don’t give up. … Don’t ever give up!” He died of cancer later that year.
Robertson battles biliary atresia — a chronic liver disease that affects his physical growth. He has been in and out of hospitals since receiving a liver transplant when he was 1. At one point, he was in a coma for an entire year. He received a second liver transplant on April 30.

“Jarrius is such an inspirational young man,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “His strength, determination and resolve along with his infectious energy and attitude should be an example that no matter the circumstances or adversity, with a positive outlook and embracing the motto of ‘Don’t give up. … Don’t ever give up,’ there isn’t a challenge that cannot be conquered.”