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New Orleans Saints star running back Alvin Kamara is in the final year of his contract and could potentially hold out for a new contract worth north of $100 million.

Cheap Alvin Kamara Jersey has been a staple for the New Orleans Saints for years now. He has become a fan favorite and a highlight in the city of New Orleans, but his time in the great city might be coming to an end with his rookie contract.

Over the past couple of seasons, we have seen a handful of running backs in Alvin Kamara’s situation hold out and demand more money before returning to the football field — Le’Veon Bell and Melvin Gordon are just a few stars names.

Kamara is going into his final year on his rookie contract with the New Orleans Saints. Currently, Kamara is making less than $1 million per year. Just to put that into perspective, his market value right now is roughly $13.5 million per year.

With the Saints staring down a $13 million per year pay increase for Kamara, there is a good chance that they won’t or can’t pay him that much. If they were to choose not to pay him, the best way to get something out of him would be to trade him.

Here are five high-profile trade packages that the New Orleans Saints could use now for Kamara.

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New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees has been nominated for two ESPYs, Best Record-Breaking Performance and Best NFL Player, ESPN announced Wednesday.

Voting is under way here and all categories will close at the start of the live show Wednesday, July 10, at 7 p.m. central.

Brees surpassed Peyton Manning’s mark of 71,940 career passing yards on “Monday Night Football” during a nationally televised game against the Washington Redskins in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The achievement moves Brees into first place on the NFL’s all-time passing list. The game was paused late in the second quarter after Brees completed a 62-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith to allow for recognition of the accomplishment, which came in his 18th NFL season. Brees began the evening third on the all-time list and passed Brett Favre (71,838 yards) midway through the second quarter.

For the Best Record-Breaking Performance category, Brees is joined by Oregon women’s basketball player Sabrina Ionescu, Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson, and high school track phenom Matthew Boling.
Along with Brees, there are three other nominees for Best NFL Player: Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, and Rams running back Todd Gurley II.

In 2010, Brees received three ESPY trophies – Best Male Athlete, Best Championship Performance and Best NFL Player.

The interactions were, in a word, “golden.”

Alex Anzalone smiled easily, laughed genuinely and operated dutifully while he nuzzled, hugged and steered. The dogs with which he was being photographed weren’t totally attentive to all commands, and perhaps that made the session at Animal Rescue New Orleans all the more adorable.

Imagine the New Orleans Saints’ 6-foot-3, 241-pound linebacker talking baby talk, trying to convince each of six dogs (in separate photo shoots) to look toward the camera, or sit still long enough to strike a pose, or not wriggle as he cradled them or, in one instance, held one up for a Simba-style presentation.

This isn’t the Anzalone that Saints fans are accustomed to seeing.
That guy – blonde hair flowing from beneath his helmet, almost lengthy enough to cover the name across the back of his jersey – doesn’t handle opponents with any measure of delicacy.

The fumbles he forced against two elite receivers in 2018 – pounding Minnesota’s Adam Thielen in the second quarter with New Orleans trailing 13-10, and walloping Atlanta’s Julio Jones in the second quarter while the Saints led 17-3 – were indicative of the level of wrath Anzalone can unspool.

But there’s no wrath-unspooling when he’s at ARNO. There, Anzalone is, well – you knew it was coming, but it’s appropriate – a Saint.

If he’s not a lead spokesman for the organization, he likely is its most notable and recognizable.

“There are tons of different charities but it’s something that really strikes my chord,” Anzalone said. “It’s something I love to do, and I like spending time with animals and people who love animals, as well.”
It’s no act. He linked with ARNO in his rookie season, 2017, and has been a regular presence since. He takes the relationship personally, for good reason.

“It’s something that I got into in college,” he said. “I have a rescue dog myself – Sammy – and just learning throughout the process how adopting an animal works and everything like that kind of drew my interest.

“My fiancé (Lindsey Cooper) kind of introduced it to me a little bit. She grew up adopting animals. But doing it myself, and with her, kind of opened my eyes up to it. And then, kind of just researching it more and more kind of opens your eyes that there are dogs out there you can adopt, pure-bred dogs that you can find that are perfectly normal and not spend a lot of money on, either.

“When I got drafted here I came out, checked it out and met up with everyone there. I try to help out where I can. I’ve taken pictures with dogs, tried to incentivize adopting an animal – ‘You can adopt this dog and get this picture with myself.’ Just try to give back like that.”

The level nearly is immeasurable of appreciation for his work.
“He’s our only (athlete spokesperson),” said Ginnie Boumann, vice president and one of the directors of ARNO. “And we call him the biggest animal lover in the NFL. And I haven’t been challenged yet, so I’m going to keep saying it. He and his fiancé are so devoted to animals.

“Alex comes here every so many months in order to do a photo shoot. However, he tweets, he retweets pictures of the animals, he comes by to help out. When we have a call for ‘laundry angels’ because we’re trying to get enough people to help out, because it’s cold and we have all these extra blankets, he and Lindsey are angels and they help us in any way they can.”

Boumann said Anzalone’s celebrity status obviously works to their favor.

“It’s extraordinary,” she said. “There’s such a following for the New Orleans Saints, that the moment you put a dog or anything about ARNO with Alex, it’s retweeted all over the place. There’s such a following. It’s really significant, and it helps bring about more awareness to the need for rescue – not only adopting, but volunteering here or at events.

“Lindsey is incredible. Her grandmother is into rescue, so she has it in her blood. So even as they’re making all of their own (wedding) plans, they’re always checking in on us, always seeing how they can help.”
Anzalone appears to have found his sweet spot there, as much as he did on the field last year, his second in the NFL. He played all 16 regular-season games (he had a season-ending injury in his fourth game as a rookie) and totaled 59 tackles, two sacks, an interception, three forced fumbles and two passes defended.

For ARNO, he isn’t able to invest as much time as he’d like, but it’s valuable nonetheless.

“I spend time with the animals, just showing everyone that these dogs are lovable,” he said. “It’s fun to do and it’s good to give back.

“I’m able to come every once in a while per my schedule. When I do, I try to put some time into it and do some things that help out and give back. A little bit goes a long way.”

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DENVER — In no sport but the NFL do players, fans, coaches and general managers annually debate the rules of the game, advocating ways to make pro football better, safer, fairer.

Officiating is especially a hot topic around the league after a blown call late in the NFC championship game pretty much cost the New Orleans Saints a trip to the Super Bowl.
That capped a season which began with the long-awaited clarification of what constitutes a catch and then was marred by widespread confusion over what exactly is a legal takedown of the quarterback. While defenders learned new ways to tackle to avoid flags for even glancing blows to the helmet, they complained about O-linemen illegally blocking too far downfield in the run-pass option craze that has successfully seeped in from the college game.

Giants owner John Mara hears the cries to change the NFL’s replay review system after officials failed to flag the blatant pass interference penalty and a helmet-first hit by the Rams’ Nickell Robey-Coleman deep in Los Angeles territory in the NFC championship match. The non-calls helped Los Angeles force overtime and eventually win the game to reach the Super Bowl, leading to widespread displeasure with the current system regarding coaches’ challenges.

Mara said last month at the NFL combine that the powerful competition committee isn’t in a rush to change the replay system.

“I just don’t sense a lot of support to use replay to call penalties. I don’t sense a lot of support for the expansion of it, either,” Mara said. “We’re early on, so that might change, but that’s my sense of where we are right now. I’m not saying it won’t change.”

The Canadian Football League has allowed pass interference, either called or uncalled, to be reviewed for the last five years. But the NFL has long been reluctant to expand replays for officiating because it would slow games even further.

Other major moves will be considered by the 32 owners at the league meetings in Phoenix beginning Sunday.

Several teams are proposing big changes to replay and overtime after a season of consistent criticism of officiating and which plays can be challenged or automatically reviewed. Any change requires a 24-vote threshold to pass.

Just like the USFL did with the 2-point conversion and other innovations back in the 1980s, the Alliance of American Football’s debut this spring has brought novel ideas, some of which could find their way into the NFL rule book. Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, a staunch advocate for adding more replay reviews to the NFL, is a big fan of the AAF’s “sky judge,” an official watching from the press box level who can help call penalties from a bird’s-eye view.

“Look how tough it is for these officials, all right. I know as a coach, what’s the worst spot to watch the game from? Sideline. You see the least amount form the sideline. That’s why you put coaches in the box,” Harbaugh said. “OK. So we’ve got all this technology and the fans actually have a better view of the game from an officiating standpoint than the officials do.

“So these clear and obvious mistakes that are inevitably going to get made, it’s not just one play in a championship game; it happens every single week, because the job is so tough and moves so fast and the angles aren’t great,” Harbaugh added. “If we can put somebody up there in the box that has a better angle that can help officiate the game from up there, do that. If we can add more replay, let’s do that.”

Harbaugh said the league would save face by fixing a system everyone knows is flawed.

“Because at the end of the day it’s about the credibility of the sport, and we can’t have the other leagues outpacing us in terms of use of technology to make sure games are fair and well-officiated,” Harbaugh said. “We have great officials. These guys are incredible with what they do. We’ve also put a lot of rules in place that’ve made it really tough on them. They’ve got a lot on their plate.

“So let’s add an official, let’s add two officials, let’s put one up in the box, let’s expand replay if we want. Let’s make sure that at the end of the day the fans walk out of the stadium and walk away from their TV sets knowing that was a good, hard-fought, well-officiated game and the outcome is as it should be and it was correct. The right team won the game.”

Players have their own ideas about ways to make the game better.

Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said the rules already in place need to be enforced, like flagging O-linemen who block too far downfield on the run-pass option plays that have become all the rage, leading to wide-open tight ends as linebackers come up to play the run.

“You can’t have guys 4 or 5 yards downfield and (the quarterback is) still throwing the ball,” Harris said.

“They’ve got to figure out the RPO stuff, but let me suggest a better rule,” teammate Von Miller said. “You know how you can’t hit a defenceless receiver coming across the field? I feel like edge rushers should have the same protection from chippers. I feel like it’s not fair.

“I’m looking right and I’ve got a receiver that shuffles in and blindsides me while I’m focusing on this play. I actually tore my ACL in a play like that in 2013,” Miller said. “I feel like the chips should be gone. I’m dead serious about that. You see guys get blindsided all the time.”

Miller said owners are eager to protect QBs and nowadays great edge rushers are getting paid just like franchise quarterbacks.

“We’ve got a lot of star pass rushers. All it takes is one of those plays and boom, that could be it for one of those guys,” Miller said. “This league is all about protecting the quarterbacks. How come they get protection and we don’t?”

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NEW ORLEANS — It wasn’t supposed to look like this. Not again. Not with a young defense that had finally turned things around so impressively last season.

But somehow the New Orleans Saints kicked off the 2018 season with a defensive flop as dreadful as anything they posted in some of those historically bad seasons between 2012 and 2016.

They allowed Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw for 417 yards and four touchdowns and run for a fifth Sunday in a 48-40 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Bucs had more TD passes of 50-plus yards (two) than punts (one).

It was one of the biggest Week 1 surprises in the NFL — a stunning performance from a team that was anointed as one of this season’s popular Super Bowl picks.

And it’s yet another slow start for the Saints, who haven’t won a season opener since 2013.

“We needed this, we needed to get slapped in our face one good time to see that we’re not on the level we think we’re on. But we’re gonna get better,” Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore insisted.

The second-year cornerback — the NFL’s 2017 Defensive Rookie of the Year — allowed Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans to have a big day (seven catches for 147 yards and a 50-yard TD) after Lattimore had stifled Evans in both meetings last season.

It was that kind of day for the Saints’ defense.
Cornerback Ken Crawley and the the rest of the Saints’ defense spent a frustrating day chasing DeSean Jackson and the surprising Buccaneers in Week 1. Derick E. Hingle/USA Today Sports
The unit also had a breakdown in zone coverage on Tampa’s fourth play of the game that allowed DeSean Jackson to spring wide open for a 58-yard touchdown catch. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s now two 50-yard plays against a Saints defense that gave up only one play of 50-plus all season in 2017.

Fellow defensive backs such as Ken Crawley, Marcus Williams, Patrick Robinson and Vonn Bell were also victimized in what is expected to be the most talented unit on New Orleans’ defense.

But it wasn’t just the back end that failed to do its job. Coach Sean Payton lamented that Fitzpatrick was “pressure-free” for the most part Sunday.

“Take your pick,” Payton said when he was asked what didn’t work on defense. “We didn’t hurry the passer. Guys were open. Third downs were awful. They had [529] yards. We didn’t disrupt the timing of any element of the passing game. And too many penalties.

“I can’t think of any positives.”

When a reporter started asking Payton a question by saying, “Obviously anything can happen in this league at any time …” Payton cut him off.

“That’s true. And you just saw it happen. So there’s no ‘buts’ after it. You have to come ready to play in this league, period,” Payton said — though he repeatedly credited Tampa Bay and Fitzpatrick, in particular, for doing just that Sunday.

The defensive struggles wasted a dynamic performance by the offense — Drew Brees threw for 439 yards and three TDs, Alvin Kamara scored three times and Michael Thomas caught a franchise-record 16 passes for 180 yards and a TD. The offense also made two costly errors, though, with lost fumbles by Thomas and Mike Gillislee.

No one specifically suggested the Saints came out flat or lackadaisical or overconfident for their season opener: “I don’t think anybody went out there with the mindset that [the Buccaneers] were just gonna roll over because we won the division last year,” Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins said. “They beat us at the end of the year last year, so I’m sure they had all the confidence in the world they could beat us. And they did.”

But the result was exactly the type of “hangover” performance the Saints tried to guard against all summer.

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Payton tackled those Super Bowl expectations head-on in the first team meeting of training camp, using the message “Prove Them Right” as a way to capture the same mentality of teams who are determined to prove critics wrong. The Saints had a poster with that message hanging outside their team facility throughout training camp.

And they talked all week about avoiding the slow starts that led them to records of 0-2, 0-3, 0-3 and 0-2 over the past four seasons.

But as Lattimore acknowledged, no amount of talk can do the job that they needed to actually do on the field Sunday.

“I mean, we like to do what we say, of course. But it’s not always gonna end up like that. It takes time to be a great team,” he said. “You know, there’s a lot of new guys on the team, and we’re still trying to jell together and get right.

“It’s the first game. Don’t panic. We went 0-2 last year and went on an eight-game winning streak. … We’re still together. We’re gonna get it right.”
The good news about that trend of slow starts is that the Saints have been here before. All too many times. Last season, their defense got torched for a total of 1,025 yards in the first two games of the season against the Minnesota Vikings and New England Patriots, respectively, before that epic turnaround that led to an 11-5 season and the NFC South title.

“It’s not a death sentence,” Rankins said. “You take it on the chin, you learn from it and you play better next week.”

“Hopefully the Super Bowl isn’t won Week 1,” Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan said. “We’ve got a lot of things we have to address, and I’m my toughest critic. And I guess my dad would be my second-toughest critic — so I’m looking forward to that phone call.

“[But] we have a 24-hour rule. We have to wipe our mind clean of this catastrophe that just happened. You can’t be proud of 41 points on the board (by the Bucs offense). But we have to push forward.”

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Marcus Davenport makes a splash in his debut as a New Orleans Saint

Drew Brees ‘chomping at the bit’ after preseason debut lasted 17 plays

Saints quarterback Taysom Hill bounces back with performance that highlights his unique potential

Marcus Davenport holds his own in his Saints preseason debut; plus other observations

Defense dominates: 8 takeaways from the Saints-Chargers preseason game
Saints cornerback Marcus Williams boosts roster case with pick-6

Marcus Williams’ inner circle confident ‘fluke thing’ will not define Saints safety

Alvin Kamara and Marshon Lattimore: An encore or even more?

Nothing routine about it: Drew Brees strictly follows his formula for success

Photos: Preseason Game 3 – Saints at Chargers – Game Action – 1
Photos: Preseason Game 3 – Saints at Chargers – Game Action – 2

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What does it say about Marshon Lattimore that he tried to get back in the game after the half?
“Number one, he is tough, he is competitive and I think he felt like he could go or else he would not have tried to and yet he was smart enough to understand that he was not at full speed. He was going to be smart enough to (where we could) get the next guy in there.”

How has Trey Hendrickson grown throughout this season and what has grabbed your attention?
“He’s played quite a bit. He gives you flexibility outside and inside. He’s a good rusher inside, very quickly in training camp you just saw a sense of urgency and someone who had some natural strength to (complement) his play.”

Is it safe to say Trey Hendrickson would get the first shot to replace Alex Okafor?
“Like I said at the onset, I’m not going to go through any types of scenarios.”

What have you seen from Hau’oli Kikaha this season being in and out of the lineup this season?
“A lot of it is based on the type of team where we’re playing with regards to pass, run, were they a heavy 21 team (personnel wise) or were they more of an 11 team (personnel wise). A lot of it’s been gameplanned that way.”

What did you think of the way Vonn Bell played at the end of the game?
“Those were significant and yet I think that today was a good day for all of us to come in here and make corrections. There’s a lot of things that we didn’t do well in that game. Fortunately, in the end we made enough plays to give ourselves a chance and he was one of the players that did some things there in the end that helped (force overtime).

What do you think of Vonn Bell taking responsibility for struggling early and bouncing back late in the game?
“He was accurate. I think that he bounced back and made a few plays. There are a handful of things that have to happen to get back in (the game) and you can point to all of them as significant and yet (they were) necessary and he was involved in a few of those plays.”

How tough was it to see Alex Okafor go down in the middle of such a good season for this team?
“Yeah it’s real difficult, He’s a great teammate here, a part of our team and he’ll continue to be a part of the team and it’s always tough. You do not like to see that. You hate to see it.”

What did you think of the way Coby Fleener played down the stretch?
“He sure did. Those were significant and (he had) a couple of them. One was improvised, he got into the seams real well and the play he makes on our sideline to (set up) tying touchdown to put us in position was really good.”

The league supposedly reached out and told the Redskins that play at the end of the fourth quarter was not intentional grounding on Kirk Cousins. What did you see on the on that play?
“You go back and forth on it. There are four or five calls in a game each week that take place (that are in question). There were 12 in the huddle twice that I felt never was called. We are kind of on to the next game.”

What specifically has Jeff Ireland done that has helped revamp the scouting process, since you have mentioned his efforts recently?
“Just the overall (department) structure and how we put together our board, the typing (of players), how we value players. The reports and what’s necessary on a report. A lot of (those) things we did in Dallas.”

Anything you can point to that Ireland did that help shape this draft class?
“Just what I mentioned, first off reducing the draft board from 500, 400 players, 300 players down to a manageable number and then at that point really paying attention to the profiles we set up for each position and then the typing that we’ve set up for each position and then also the attention to detail with how we read a report and what has to be included in a report. All those things would be things that I think have really helped.”

When did the team give him a previously reported extension?
“I’m not really aware. I have no clue where he is at contract wise. I just know I’m glad he’s here.”

A couple of years ago in Charlotte you took detail to a newspaper photo that showed the excitement of your younger players at a game in terms of pulling for each other. What can we take from that you and Drew Brees dove into with the defensive team picture in the locker room?
“I do not know that I realized it was a defensive team photo as much as it was just a bunch of guys excited about a game and being real spontaneous. It is one of the things I said after the game. We talked Friday and we’d played in nine games and quite honestly it was a little unusual. We had not played in a game that finished within a score or a two-minute drive to win or defending a two-minute drive. We talked about this on Friday, we have had some two-minute drills at the end of halves, but to go nine weeks into an NFL season that’s I’d say very unusual and sure enough just after talking about it Friday, here is was. We were really in it twice offensively in a two-minute drill to hurry up and score. There is just that level of excitement after the game and celebrating as a team.”

What is it like to be in a game similar to the Redskins game in 2009, with Robert Meachem in attendance at this game representing the Legends group?
“I have no idea who (handles) the decision when we bring back players. I’m sure someone is looking at it. I don’t think it (the thought) was let’s bring Robert back because we are playing the Redskins. I think we’ve had Devery (Henderson) here, we’ve had (Jonathan) Vilma, Carl (Nicks), we’ve had all of these guys back. I think that was more coincidence, but I think over the years you play in some games where you have a big lead and then all of a sudden it gets away from you or you have a significant lead and you come up short or vice versa. Yesterday, you’re down, but not out and then you get back in it and find a way to win. You just hope to be on the positive side end of those more than the negative end and yesterday was one of those games where there’s a lot of things that we have to get cleaned up and yet there was enough mental toughness and grit to climb back in and make the plays down the stretch and then finish with a win. That says something about the guys on the sideline and in the locker room and then obviously we come in today and look closely at cleaning these things up.”

What vibe do you get when you are in the city when the team is playing as well as they are?
“I don’t get out much. Honestly in-season is kind of crazy and then I’m back to Dallas to see Connor play (football) each weekend. His season just ended and there’s not a whole lot of time maybe to experience it or enjoy it. Occasionally, it will be a dinner on a Friday night or yesterday after the game (to) go out and get something to eat and people are excited, but I think the fans are passionate and I think they feel like we are always in a game and there’s that resiliency and maybe in years past they didn’t feel that way, but that excitement that’s generated from a game like that at home is something certainly you sense especially if you’re out amongst the fans.”

Were you worried Alvin Kamara may not get back down from the stands for the two-point conversion?
“I was not aware he was in the stands honestly. Maybe in the offseason we can reduce the size of that wall. We can put that on Doug Thornton’s list, maybe pad it, kind of make it like a (John) Kuhn wall, if Kuhn can get up and into the fans then (it is safe). That would be a good idea actually, but I didn’t realize he was up in the crowd. I saw on film and it’s a pretty significant jump so that we’ll hopefully be on our renovation list.”

Who did you give the game balls to yesterday?
“It’s something we do. We gave game balls to players today and Alex (Okafor) received one on defense and on offense (Mark) Ingram received one, (Coby) Fleener, (Alvin) Kamara got one, special teams I thought Wil (Lutz) was outstanding, Tommylee (Lewis) was outstanding (on) punt returns, really to put us in (good) position even in overtime.”

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METAIRIE, La. — New Orleans Saints fans — and Michael Thomas’ fantasy owners — can relax. The standout receiver was back on the practice field for the portion open to the media Thursday after being held out of drills Wednesday with a knee injury.

Saints left tackle Terron Armstead (shoulder) also participated Thursday after being held out Wednesday.

(UPDATE: Both Thomas and Armstead were listed as limited in full-team drills on the Saints’ official injury report Thursday evening.)

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Obviously, both are huge factors for the Saints. Thomas has become as much of a true No. 1 receiver as the Saints have ever had in the Sean Payton/Drew Brees era (and draws that type of No. 1 attention from opposing defenses). And Armstead has played at a Pro Bowl level when healthy in his career, though he has been plagued by injuries over the past three seasons.

Thomas remains a must-start player for fantasy leagues, even though Sunday’s opponents, the Chicago Bears, have been playing great defense. Thomas still leads the Saints with 35 catches and 403 receiving yards despite all the attention he has been receiving from defenses — though his total of two touchdowns is surprisingly low for such a dangerous red zone target.

As for the rest of the Saints’ injury report, receiver Willie Snead (hamstring) practiced fully for the second straight day, but guard Larry Warford (abdomen) remained out and is not expected to play Sunday.

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Plenty of talented running backs have sported the fleur de lis of the New Orleans Saints. Chuck Muncie, George Rogers, Dalton Hilliard, Ricky Williams, Deuce McAllister, Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles spent time in New Orleans. So did Jim Taylor and Earl Campbell, Hall of Famers who played out the string with the Saints. But New Orleans has never assembled a stable of backs like this one. “I’ve been a part of a lot of great rooms here in New Orleans but, just from top to bottom, this is probably the best group,” running back Mark Ingram said. Ingram is the incumbent, the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner who overcame a slow start with the Saints to become a devastating all-around back, a man who will finish high on the team’s career rushing lists and is coming off his best season. Adrian Peterson is the legend, the 2012 NFL MVP and future Hall of Famer with the violent, powerful running style who believes he still has something left after nearly 2,500 carries in the NFL. And then there’s Alvin Kamara, the rookie who spent his first preseason displaying an eye-popping skill set and a silky smooth quickness that belies his surprising power. A team with those three backs seems set up to run, to pound the ball down the defense’s throat and throw only when absolutely necessary. But this is still the Saints offense, Drew Brees is still the quarterback and he still has a talented group of receivers at his disposal, led by Michael Thomas and Willie Snead. The 38-year-old is coming off his third straight season — and his fifth in the past six — of leading the NFL in passing yards. Brees has always been able to carve teams up through the air under coach Sean Payton, but the ground game hasn’t often been able to match that dominance. New Orleans is hoping it has built an offense that can beat teams both ways. “There are some weeks where, if a team’s stacking up and playing the run better, then we have to be smart enough to understand how to handle that team, versus a team where we might feel like it’d be more difficult throwing the football,” Payton said. “Week to week, we really try to study who we’re playing and what’s the best way to score.” New Orleans has only finished higher than 19th in the NFL in rushing attempts twice during the Brees era: The Saints were 12th during the magical 2006 season and ranked seventh in 2009, the year the franchise won its only Super Bowl. During that time, the Saints’ efficiency in the running game has fluctuated, finishing in the top six three times (in 2009, 2011 and 2014) and adding a few other top-15 finishes. This offense might be capable of giving the Saints the kind of balance and flexibility that has marked its best versions. “We’ve got the guys to do it,” Ingram said. “I ain’t going to take the ball out of (Brees’) hands too much, but we need to run that thing, for sure.” A better running game makes life easier on Brees, who faces far fewer third-and-longs, reaps the benefit of play action and largely gets to avoid the pass rush. “I’ve been feeling the energy,” Peterson said. “You look on social media, and you see how people feel about me getting out there and being the two-headed monster with Mark Ingram and being behind Drew Brees.” If this Saints’ backfield lives up to its billing, the possibilities seem endless.

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New Orleans Saints rookie safety Marcus Williams is a student of the game.

The Saints’ second-round pick said he spends a lot of his downtime breaking down film and immersing himself in the playbook.

He also looks around the league to study other players manning his position.

“I look at a lot of safeties and not just particular, like one,” Williams said. “I mean, I just look at the great ones and follow what they do.”

So who are the NFL’s great safeties currently in the league?

“I really don’t like to say that now,” he said with a wide grin. “We’re all in the same league. I mean, they know who they are.”

If the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Williams continues to show progress like he has through seven days of practice in training camp, he could eventually join their ranks and have others studying him.

Marcus Williams making plays in camp but focused on doing it consistently
Williams, who has received work with the first- and second-team defensive units, has displayed a knack for being around the football.

He said the game is slowing down for him with help from teammates and the coaching staff, and Williams has knocked away passes and notched interceptions during team-related drills.

The Saints knew what he brings to the backend of coverage from his college career at Utah, where he totaled 188 tackles (125 solo), 11 interceptions, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and eight passes defensed.
“If you looked at his college numbers, he was probably the most productive safety in regards to turnover production,” coach Sean Payton said.

Impressive production, for sure, and Williams prides himself in being around the football.

6 observations from Day 7 of Saints training camp
6 observations from Day 7 of Saints training camp
Notes from Thursday’s session

“I feel like that’s what I hold myself accountable to do is go get the ball,” he said. “Since I was in high school and college, that’s what I always practiced on doing is going to get the ball, being in position, watch enough film and being in my playbook in order to put myself in position to make those plays.”

Quarterback Drew Brees found out on the sixth practice of training camp what happens when Williams sniffs out a play.

During a 7-on-7 drill, rookie running back Alvin Kamara split wide of the line of scrimmage and took off down the sideline at the snap. Kamara easily beat linebacker Craig Robertson before Brees lofted a pass for what looked like a big play.

Williams, however, saw the play develop in front of him and ran over to make a leaping interception.

“It’s like a dream come true,” Williams said of picking off Brees. “Going against one of the great quarterbacks, just coming in and being able to adjust is something that you always look forward to doing as a rookie.”

Sean Payton hopes Saints end ‘epidemic’ of bad shotgun snaps in training camp
Sean Payton hopes Saints end ‘epidemic’ of bad shotgun snaps in training camp
High and off target snaps have plagued the Saints centers this training camp

In the meantime, Williams’ ball hawking skills and potential are clear.

But he knows there is room for growth, citing tackling and being physical, in his goal to being on the field to become a difference maker for the Saints defense whenever the opportunity presents itself.
“It’s just about adjusting,” Williams said. “I feel like I need to continue to be consistent and doing what I do.”

Gallery: New Orleans Saints training camp Thursday, August 3, 2017