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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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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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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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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, NOLA.com | 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, NOLA.com | 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, NOLA.com |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, NOLA.com | 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, NOLA.com | 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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METAIRIE, La. — It’s hard to imagine many players who were more eager for a fresh start this spring than New Orleans Saints cornerback P.J. Williams.

Williams, 24, has played in just two games in two NFL seasons. Last year, he earned a starting job in training camp, but then he suffered a frightening concussion in Week 2 that was severe enough to land him on injured reserve.

He was knocked out on the field after taking two blows to the head on the same play — one knee to the side of the helmet and one knee to the back of the helmet. He was immobilized on a cart before being taken off the field, and he spent the night in a New York-area hospital for evaluation since the Saints were on the road playing the Giants.

Williams said he didn’t suffer any injuries beyond the concussion and estimated that he felt OK within a month. But he said he understood why the Saints and doctors decided it would be best to keep him off the field for the rest of the year.

“They explained it to me and just knowing the severity of it, [I wasn’t surprised] at all,” said Williams, who recently spoke to the media at length for the first time since the injury. “Because it was a bad concussion, and you just look at yourself with life. It was a good decision. I was definitely OK with it.”

Of course, Williams said, it was “frustrating at first” to be sidelined for the year. Especially since he had also missed his entire rookie season when he was placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury in training camp.

“But it’s football, so things like that happen,” said Williams, who was drafted in the third round out of Florida State in 2015. “I was just looking forward and doing what I had to do to get back this offseason.

“Now I’m going to keep working hard, get better every day and look forward to this season.”

When asked if two years of injuries have taken a toll on him, Williams said, “No, I don’t think so. It just makes you want to play more. It just makes you more hungry.”

Williams said he hasn’t spent much time dwelling on the concussion, and it won’t change the way he plays.

He said there are ways that players can try to avoid head injuries, but he feels like his was almost a “fluke” the way it happened.

“I’m a physical guy. So things like that, that’s a part of football. So I’m gonna play football the best way I can and make sure I do what I gotta do,” Williams said. “That’s definitely behind me. That was my first concussion ever. I feel like the way I play and stuff like that, that shouldn’t happen. So I’m not thinking about that out there at all.”

Williams is also grateful that the Saints are giving him every opportunity to regain his starting job — even though they drafted cornerback Marshon Lattimore with the 11th pick in the draft and considered trading for veteran cornerbacks like Malcolm Butler and Trumaine Johnson.

Williams has been working as a starting cornerback during the first two OTA practices open to the media so far.
“I’m definitely happy they’re giving me a chance like that, but at the end of the day, you’ve gotta work for it. So every day I’m working, trying to prove myself to them and trying to get better,” said Williams, who insisted that he wasn’t bothered by the Lattimore pick.

So far, Lattimore has split time between the second- and third-string units — though that could change later in the summer as he learns his new defense and adjusts to the NFL game.

“I know what type of league this is. You got to work hard, and the best player is going to play,” Williams said.

Fellow Saints starter Delvin Breaux did a double-take when someone asked him if there was a sense that people were “counting out” P.J. Williams — at least from outside the building.

“No, he ain’t been counted out, man. No indeed, no,” Breaux said. “P out there working, man, I’m telling you, P out there working. I can’t wait to see what he’s gonna do.”