From the Coach’s Office: What must go right for the Saints in 2017
We start with the premise that the New Orleans Saints have a thin margin of error for ending up with a winning 2017 season.
How many of you remember when NFL preseason games were called exhibition games?
Can the Saints win a preseason game this year? The last time New Orleans won a preseason game was on Saturday August 13, 2014 when the Saints beat the Colts in Indianapolis 23-17. In fact, the Saints finished 3-1 in the pre-season that year.
New Orleans has now lost nine preseason games in a row.
Training Camp Objectives
There are two objectives to training camp, and both have to do with status on the team. One is to get your starters fit, sharp and rested for opening day. The other is to find the very best 53-man roster that can be put together.
More than half of the 90 players presently on the roster are fighting for jobs.
A sure sign that a team is mediocre is when you have to add “if they stay healthy.” While everyone has to deal with injuries, it is a fact that injuries are an integral part of the game. The best teams deal with this by developing depth.
Drew Brees Barometer
If Drew Brees throws closer to 4,000 than 5,000 yards the Saints make the playoffs.
Throwing for fewer yards means that the Saints are running the football effectively, special teams are giving him shorter fields, especially due to the return game, and that the defense is forcing turnovers. All three of these things must happen for New Orleans to regain a spot in the playoffs.
Sean Payton has to stay on edge.
Coach Payton is at his best when he is tough, demanding and sarcastic. He cannot be collegial. Payton got off to a good start after the first practice when he said that he did not like the team’s early mental errors and that led to the re-start of practice.
After day four, Payton said, “I told them at one point that we’re not just going to go through (the motions) and run plays. We repeated a team drill towards the end. There were some things that I didn’t like. I think the worst thing we can do is sit and tolerate something that we feel’s not acceptable. It’s really no different than parenting. It takes energy. You have to change behaviors. I thought part of this practice was missing some of the intensity that I would like to see. We’re going to get it. We will find it, but it required us to go a little bit longer.”
I hope Payton can keep this razor’s edge up not only in training camp but all year long. He has to keep everyone else on edge by being there himself.
The Maturity of Ryan Ramczyk
There have been some reports that left tackle Ryan Ramczyk looks very comfortable at stepping in with the starters, especially when compared to the first year of now established left guard Andrus Peat. That makes sense, consider the two are actually almost the same age. Peat is only 5 months and 18 days older than Ramczyk, although this is Peat’s third season.
We often forget how very young Peat was coming out early from Stanford.
Rating Draft Classes
We can now start to effectively rate draft classes. The criteria is how many drafted players are offered second contracts after four years.
The 2014 class became a complete washout when Brandin Cooks was traded to New England.
The 2015 draft class is under full review going into their third season. The Saints drafted nine players and seven still remain on the roster.
Marcus Murphy has been released and signed by the New York Jets. Davis Tull is out of football.
Andrus Peat, Stephone Anthony, Hau’oli Kikaha, Garrett Grayson, P.J. Williams, Tyeler Davison and Damian Swann remain. With the impending release of Dannelle Ellerbe, that leaves P.J. Williams still remianing on the roster from the Kenny Stills trade to Miami.
Roster Turnover and Opening Day
The Saints have had a huge roster turnover the last two seasons, over 50 percent in fact. That has made it difficult to get off to a good start. The Saints are in a position that they must get off to a good start if they hope to be contenders instead of pretenders.
The first game of the regular season at Minnesota will tell us all we need to know about New Orleans. Much like last season, they MUST beat the Vikings in the opener to be considered a contender.
Worst to First
I find it very interesting that almost every season, there is a team that will go from worst to first within their division. That has happened 16 times in 14 seasons. Who from this list will go from worst to first?
West: San Francisco
East: New York Jets
West: LA Chargers
What concerns me is that I expect Carolina to bounce back from a very disappointing 2015. Can the Saints stay ahead of them and pass up the improved Tampa Bay Buccaneers? That could prove to be difficult.
Also, historically about half of the playoff teams from the previous season will not make the playoffs. Which teams will not make the playoffs this season and who will replace them?
NFC Playoff Teams 2016
New York Giants
AFC Playoff Teams 2016
I am not encouraged about the 2017 season. Atlanta may come back to the pack, after all they did lose five regular season games last year and have replaced both offensive and defensive coordinators. Tampa Bay looks like the most improved team in the division and the 2015 NFC champion Carolina Panthers should bounce back.
Where does that leave the Saints with three key players out at this juncture (Nick Fairley, Terron Armstead and Max Unger)? We will study that more in future discussions when we look at what has to go right in the kicking game, offense and defense.
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Rick Gaille has been involved in athletics his entire life, first in the arena as a competitor, later on the sidelines as a coach and now analyzing sports for crescentcitysports.com and WGSO 990AM. As a competitor in golf, Rick was LSUNO’s first athlete, first 1st team All-American (1970) and first three-time All-American (1970, 1971 and 1972). During those years, (LS)UNO…