Saints training camp countdown Part 2: Wide receivers/Tight ends
METAIRIE – The wide receivers should be the most improved unit on the New Orleans Saints this season.
In fact they should be one of the strongest units on the team.
The tight end position, though, is one of the bigger question marks on the team.
So there will be a lot to keep an eye on from the Saints’ pass catchers during training camp and the preseason.
The wide receivers at the top of the depth chart provide a lot of interest: Is Michael Thomas finally recovered from ankle surgery, how quickly will Jarvis Landry acclimate himself to a new offense and how high should I pick Chris Olave in my fantasy league draft?
Landry said Olave is “going to be a big-time contributor for sure.”
As a practical matter, players farther down the depth have more at stake this summer. Those top three are going to be the top three.
Young players such as Marquez Callaway, Deonte Harty and Tre’Quan Smith, who weren’t up to the challenge of being a dependable No. 1 or No. 2, will vie for roles they should be better equipped to handle as complements to Thomas, Landry and Olave.
It’s important for them to perform well in camp and the preseason. There’s no guarantee all three will make the team, though Harty’s value as a return specialist make his spot pretty secure.
Callaway was the most productive receiver last season and Smith has shown glimpses of being a solid receiver during an injury-plagued four seasons.
“Chris and Jarvis add a lot of things to the room,” Callaway said. “They help us compete. We learn from each other. We help each other. We coach each other.”
The anticipated move of Taysom Hill from backup quarterback/Swiss Army Knife to being mostly a tight end should bolster a young, uncertain group.
Third-year player Adam Trautman was plagued by penalties and drops early last season, then was more productive during the middle of the season. He was sidelined by a knee injury in Week 11 after gaining a career-high 58 yards and scoring a touchdown (one of two he scored last season) on five receptions against Philadelphia.
That was the end of a stretch in which he had at least two catches and at least 32 yards in five of six games. He played in just two of the last seven games.
“We kind of had that stretch there where I felt like I was finding my groove and I was very involved in the passing game,” Trautman said. “I was playing a lot of snaps and I was feeling very comfortable. Then the injury happened and I didn’t really feel like myself the rest of the season.”
Trautman said during mini-camp earlier this month that he doesn’t “have anything lingering.”
“I’m looking for him to be a consistent player on a down-in and down-out basis,” head coach Dennis Allen said of Trautman. “Nobody’s asking him to be Superman. Development with players takes time. There was an injury process that he went through, which delayed the development a little bit.
“I wouldn’t say that it’s uncommon to get into year three before you really find out exactly what you have in a player and I think that’s probably where he’s at. I think he is a well-rounded football player. He has the ability to be an in-line blocker for us and also a pass receiver.”
Juwan Johnson is a converted wide receiver who was effective in the red zone last season as four of his 13 catches went for touchdowns. Vannett was injured for much of his first season in New Orleans last season and J.P. Holtz was brought in as a free agent with limited receiving experience.
Projected starters: Michael Thomas, Jarvis Landry, Chris Olave
Arrivals: Landry (UFA), Olave (D1A), Dai’Jean Dixon (UDFA), Kirk Merritt (FA), Rashid Shaheed
Other returning players: Marquez Callaway, Deonte Harty, Tre’Quan Smith, Kevin White, Kawaan Baker, Easop Winston Jr.
Notable departures: Ty Montgomery, Lil’Jordan Humphrey, Kenny Stills
Roster spots: 6
Projected starter: Taysom Hill/Adam Trautman
Arrivals: J.P. Holtz (FA), Lucas Krull (UDFA)
Other returning players: Nick Vannett, Juwan Johnson
Notable departures: Garrett Griffin, Ethan Wolf
Roster spots: 3-4
To read all of the pre-training camp analysis on the countdown, click here.
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s 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. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…