Saints less dependent on Brees, more dependent on Kamara
(First in a series)
METAIRIE – The New Orleans Saints showed last season the value in being less dependent on Drew Brees.
And this year they could be even more dependent on Alvin Kamara.
The Saints went 13-3 last season and missed the Super Bowl by a hair even as Brees passed for fewer than 4,000 yards for the first time in his 13 seasons in New Orleans.
Brees wasn’t less productive; he just wasn’t called on to pass as often. His 489 attempts were his fewest as a Saint, but he broke his own NFL record by completing 74.4 percent of his passes. His touchdown-to-interception ratio of 32-5 was the best of his New Orleans career.
In addition to the Saints having an improved defense and generally playing with a lead more often, the productivity of Kamara contributed to the lessened dependence on Brees.
Kamara, who was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2017, took on a heavier work load last season. He had more carries, more rushing yards, more total yards and more touchdowns, though his pass receptions were the same and his pass receiving yardage was slightly lower.
The other half of the halfback tandem – Mark Ingram II – signed as a free agent with Baltimore. Though the Saints moved quickly to replace Ingram by signing former Vikings and Raiders running back Latavius Murray to replace Ingram as a complement to Kamara, it wouldn’t be surprising if Kamara’s workload increases again.
“We’ll have packages for both those guys and probably a third,” head coach Sean Payton said. “We will balance what we try to do and be mindful of the tendencies so that they’re not so steep for either of those players.”
Quarterbacks: Drew Brees, Teddy Bridgewater, Taysom Hill, J.T. Barrett IV
Returning: Brees, Bridgewater, Hill, Barrett
Projected starter: Brees
Training camp storyline: No other position on the team is as close to being set as this one is. For the 14th consecutive training camp, Brees is the unquestioned starter as well as the player with the strongest impact on the team’s fortunes.
Bridgewater is the clear-cut No. 2 who is farther along after having a full off-season of preparation in the wake of his acquisition in trade with the New York Jets at the end of last preseason.
Hill is the No. 3 quarterback, but is projected to see much more playing time than Bridgewater because of his ability to return kickoffs, perform as the up-back on punts, participate on coverage teams and line up as a running back, wide receiver or tight end.
Barrett was on and off of the practice roster last season and that appears to be the only avenue for him to stick around this season.
Quotable: Head coach Sean Payton on Bridgewater – “It’s his second year in what we’re doing, and he understands what we’re trying to do offensively. You see it when he’s going through his progressions, getting in and out of the huddle. He’s a quick study. He’s extremely bright. I think he has really good arm talent. He has a demeanor about him that suits the position well and I think he’s a good leader.”
Running backs: Alvin Kamara, Zach Line (FB), Latavius Murray, Dwayne Washington, Javorius Allen, Matthew Dayes, Devine Ozigbo, Michael Burton (FB)
Departures: Mark Ingram II, Daniel Lasco
Returning: Kamara, Line, Washington
Arrivals: Murray, Allen, Burton, Dayes, Ozigbo
Projected starters: Kamara, Line
Training camp storyline: Kamara and Murray are the top two halfbacks and Line figures to be the fullback again, so the primary battle in training camp will be for the third halfback spot. Washington has a leg up because of his experience, but whoever prevails will have to be a special teams contributor who can handle a limited role in the backfield.
Quotable: QB Drew Brees on Kamara/Murray tandem – “Thunder and lightning. Look around the league. You have that running back room that typically brings different skillsets and you are able to mix and match. I think our offense has proven that we do a lot of things with two backs in the game. It just gives us a lot of flexibility and gives a lot for the defense to have to worry about and game plan for.”
This is the latest installment of Crescent City Sports’ comprehensive Saints training camp preview. Here is the schedule for the unit-by-unit overviews:
June 27: Offensive line
July 4: Defensive line
July 11: Linebackers
July 18: Secondary (cornerbacks and safeties)
July 25: Special teams (kicker, punter, long snappers)
The Saints are scheduled to report to their Metairie headquarters on Thursday, July 25 and begin training-camp practice the next day.
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. His blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists and Louisiana Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. You can follow…